Baldwin County Now reports a local police officer tied for third most DUI arrests in the state — the department as a whole filed 305 Alabama DUI charges last year. The Foley DUI Enforcement Unit was established in 2008.
Birmingham DUI defense lawyers know such special enforcement units frequently lead to marginal arrests. Putting such emphasis on making arrests for a specific crime can make an officer predisposed to pulling motorists over without probable cause.
“(The officer) has consistently ranked in the top 10 every year since the unit was established,” Lt. Thurston Bullock stated in a press release. “This year is no different. He tied for third place with a Huntsville officer and accounted for more than one out of three of the arrests made within the Department. His efforts, along with the combined teamwork of all the officers, has placed the Foley Police Department in sixth place among much larger municipal agencies with 305 total arrests for 2010.”
An officer must have probable cause before stopping your vehicle for suspicion of drunk driving. This is why seemingly every DUI police report in the nation references marked lane violations or another often minor alleged traffic offense. Once stopped, an officer must also have probable cause to request that you perform field sobriety testing or submit to a breathalyzer examination. This is where the “odor of alcohol” and “glassy bloodshot eyes” wording often appears.
When departments overemphasize DUI stops, an officer may play fast and loose with probable cause. Those chasing state recognition for making such stops — or those who win the awards year in and year out (you know who you are) — also may be prone to making questionable stops. Initiating stops after dark on commercial work trucks with ladder racks is an old law enforcement favorite; the theory is the work crew stopped for happy hour.
In each case, it's up to the defendant to assert his or her rights by hiring experienced defense counsel. First-offense charges are often the easiest to defend, or at least seek a reduction or minimal sentencing options. And the tiered nature of Alabama's drunk driving laws make a subsequent violation all the more serious.
And if you don't think having a drunk driving conviction on your record is a real good way to get stopped by a “task force” officer, think again.
Another issue with overemphasizing DUI enforcement is that it may result in stops made by officers who lack the proper training. This happens most frequently at sobriety checkpoints or during increased enforcement often conducted through holiday travel periods — desk personnel or auxiliary or reserve officers are often utilized on patrol. When an officer lacks the proper training to make a DUI stop and arrest, a defendant may have multiple avenues through which to seek a dismissal.
Again, it will be up to the motorist to consult an experienced Birmingham drunk driving defense lawyer. Local law enforcement hopes you just plead guilty and let them go on about their business as usual.
Birmingham DUI Defense Attorney Steven Eversole can be reached at 866-831-5292