Montgomery County DUI Dismissed at Preliminary Hearing
I was recently retained to represent an individual in Huntingdon Valley, Lower Moreland Township, Montgomery County after he had been arrested for DUI and speeding. I have represented individuals charged with DUI in Montgomery County on many occasions in the past, but this case was unusual. The prosecutors and police often request you waive the preliminary hearing and send the case to Norristown to work out pleas as they often do not want to take cases to trial. However, my client had previously been accepted into the ARD program for a 2004 Driving Under the Influence case and therefore would not have been eligible for any diversion programs. Furthermore, had he been convicted, he would have faced a minimum of thirty days in prison, a $750.00 fine, one-year license suspension, one-year ignition interlock device, and other conditions that go along with a DUI conviction.
DUI Proof Requires: (1) Driving and (2) Under the Influence
Obviously, when charged with DUI, the Commonwealth has to prove two things; (1) that you were driving or in “actual physical control” of your vehicle and (2) that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a degree rendering you incapable of safely driving. After my client was arrested he agreed to go down to the police station and submit to a breathalyzer. His blood alcohol content was .116 and therefore over the legal limit to drive. Therefore, the only issue was whether my client was driving. The police officer had one story but evidence that my client provided me told a very different story. Rather than wait to tell our story at trial, we sought to put that evidence up at the preliminary hearing and have the case dismissed by the magistrate judge. We were successful and all charges were dismissed.
Client Insists He Was Not Driving
According to the Bryn Athyn police officer, he was conducting a speed trap on Byberry Road in the Bryn Athyn/Huntingdon Valley section of Montgomery County. He testified that he observed a silver vehicle speed past him at sixty miles per hour and then quickly turn into a residential development. While the officer tried to follow the vehicle, he lost it for a short period of time in the small residential neighborhood. As he was pulling around a corner, he testified that he observed my client walking away from the driver side door of his vehicle towards his front steps. The officer quickly approached, got out of his vehicle, and demanded that my client return to his vehicle. Rather than simply succumbing to the officer’s request, my client asked why he needed to return to his vehicle. The officer insisted that he just saw him speeding on Byberry Road and ordered him back to his vehicle on multiple occasions. While the two stood on the front steps of my client’s house, my client insisted that he was not driving and that he had just been dropped off by another person. However, there was no other car in sight to support my client’s version of events. The officer ultimately grabbed my client and pulled him over to his vehicle where he placed him against the hood of the car and frisked him. The officer testified that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on my client’s breath and believed that he was under the influence and therefore arrested him on suspicion of DUI. Since the officer did not actually see my client inside of his vehicle, what are two things that the officer easily could have done to support his theory that my client was the driver who sped past them on Byberry road? First, he could have felt the hood of my client’s car to see if it was warm. He also could have searched my client to see if the keys to the vehicle were inside my client’s pocket. The officer failed to do both and when I questioned him on the stand about these issues, he had to admit that he did neither, which greatly called into question his version of the events.
Defense Evidence Destroys Officer’s Version of Car Stop
But we had more evidence that my client was not driving that night. What the officer did not know was that my client had a surveillance camera outside of his house that captured most of this incident. When I first met my client, he insisted that he was never driving on Byberry Road that night. Rather a friend came to pick him up around 9:00 pm, they went to another person’s house for drinks and to watch a basketball game, and later returned to my client’s house where he was dropped off by his friend. My client told me that he was never driving and that his friend would testify to the fact that he both picked him up and dropped him off at his house. Therefore, we went back through the surveillance video and sure enough it supported my client’s version of events. While it did not show my client specifically getting in and out of another person’s car because it was out of view of the camera, it did show the friend arriving at his house just before 9:00 pm. It showed my client walking out with that same friend and walking off camera in the same direction that the friend had arrived in, and, it showed my client once again coming from that same area off camera where his friend had parked his car when the police officer was approaching. Finally, it showed the car that had originally driven off with my client coming back around to the scene during the arrest because his friend had seen the police lights in the neighborhood and came back to see what was wrong.
The officer admitted on cross-examination that there was another man who showed up on the scene and when the officer asked what he was doing there the other man stated that he was just watching. The officer told him to “get lost.” The defense called the friend to the stand and he testified consistent with the surveillance video that he showed up at my client’s house around 8:57 pm. He stayed inside the house for about fifteen minutes visiting my client’s wife and young child. He left the house with my client and drove off with my client as a passenger. Finally, it showed that same vehicle drive past the scene where the police officer was arresting my client. This witness was able to testify that at no time between 9:00 pm and just after 1:00 am when my client was arrested was my client out of his sight and at no time during that period was my client driving.
Finally, the officer identified the vehicle that drove past him on Byberry Road as a silver car and could not give a more specific description. He could not identify the make, model, or year. I had my client take a picture of his vehicle with the same license plate that showed it was a gold Lexus. We confronted the officer with that picture at the preliminary hearing and this further supported that my client had not sped past the officer on Byberry Road.
Montgomery County DUI Lawyer
While there are many instances in Montgomery County where it is appropriate to waive the preliminary hearing, this was not one of them. My client felt strongly about his position that he was not driving and wanted to get his case dismissed as quickly as possible. There was some risk in this strategy because we would be showing our hand to the Commonwealth. If the judge ruled against us, we would be in a weaker position at trial as a prosecutor would likely try to clean up the officer’s testimony and be prepared for our defense. That said, we decided to take that risk and it worked out in my client’s favor when the judge dismissed the DUI and accompanying speeding ticket. While the officer was visibly upset walking out of the courthouse, my client, his friend, and his wife were ecstatic at the fact that they would not have to spend more money on legal fees nor shoulder the burden of worrying about the possibility of facing a mandatory minimum of thirty days in jail, a one year license suspension and all other penalties associated with a DUI. If you or a loved one have been arrested for DUI or another criminal offense in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, please contact our office and we will be happy to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and how best to protect your rights.