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DUI Defenses in Montana

A fundamental pillar of our criminal justice system is the right of an individual to defend against charges filed against him or her. It is important to understand the possible defenses that one might have when appearing in court for DUI related charges. The following are a few of the more general defenses that one can utilize while defending against a DUI related charge.

Lack of “Particularized Suspicion” by an Arresting Officer 

As stated above, in order for a police officer to pull over and arrest an individual, the police officer must have a “particularized suspicion” that a person or occupant of a vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.  However, case law has shown that a failure to show adequate “particularized suspicion” by a police officer to warrant a stop can deem that stop “unlawful.” Erratic driving has traditionally been used to justify stopping an individual for a DUI related offense. However, lawful yet unusual driving that does not break any traffic laws (i.e. driving “slowly” or swerving within the driver’s lane) has been question by the court and can be found to establish an insufficient “particularized suspicion” for officers to stop the vehicle. This shows that adequate justification is necessary for showing an officer’s “particularized suspicion” and can be attacked in court.

Should the court find that an officer’s stop was unlawful, any report issued by that officer and any test produced may be inadmissible evidence and will not be used against that individual. A good defense to any DUI related offense would attack the justification presented by an arresting officer for the purpose of stopping the vehicle.

Inadequate Field Sobriety Tests

Montana law has generally followed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Training Manual for establishing its guidelines for field sobriety tests. In order for such a test to be used against an individual as evidence, the proper procedure must be followed. Should an officer fail to follow the proper procedures, the test may indicate to the officer a falsehood that an individual is intoxicated. In addition, an officer must be trained and certified in order to correctly administer a field sobriety test.

Should the court find that the circumstances surrounding a field sobriety test are inadequate, a court may refuse to allow such evidence to be used against an individual in a DUI related charge.  A good defense would be to question both the standards and procedures used during the field sobriety test AND the officer who administered that test.

Inadequate Chemical Testing

Montana law has established requirements for the proper administration of blood and breath testing for determining alcohol concentration. Included within those laws are the requirements of proper certification of the equipment used and the individuals who utilized that equipment to make an accurate reading.  Certified physicians and nurses are required, at the very least, to supervise the sampling of blood for these tests. In addition, an officer or other certified person in administering breathalyzer tests is the only individual allowed to administer the breath tests.

Should the court find that the test that was administered to an individual did not follow the proper procedures established by Montana law, the court may deny the use of the chemical testing against that individual. A good defense would be to attack the procedure used to take the breath and blood sample, the individuals who administered the test to gain the sample, and the machines that were used to make the reading of the individual’s BAC levels.

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