Facing criminal charges can be overwhelming, especially when those charges can lead to serious penalties. Each year, numerous Virginia residents are charged with DUI or DWI; however, not all are convicted. Making a defense against drunk driving charges could help driver accused of this offense avoid serious penalties and consequences.
Virginia Beach City Treasurer John Atkinson was charged with driving under the influence after an Oceanfront traffic stop last fall. While Atkinson was convicted of breath test refusal, he was found not guilty on the DWI charge. The incident occurred when two officers saw Atkinson leaving a restaurant in his vehicle and almost hitting pedestrians nearby.
Officers stopped him for a broken passenger-side taillight after they allegedly saw him make a U-turn at a dead end street. The officers reported that Atkinson smelled of alcohol and was exhibiting other signs of intoxication. Officers asked him to perform various field sobriety tests such as reciting the alphabet and walking in a straight line, but he refused.
Atkinson was arrested and agreed to a breath test. However, the breath test did not register a reading despite him blowing into the machine four times. The officer administering the test says that he didn’t blow hard enough in to the machine. The officer gave him a second chance, but said that Atkinson burped right before blowing into the machine. Burping can skew the breath test results. After two attempts, the officer deemed it as a refusal.
Atkinson developed a strong defense against the officers’ allegations. Reportedly, he took a cell phone video of his taillight the day after the incident, which showed that the driver's taillight was the one that was out, and that only one of the two bulbs was dead. He also had video showing that he was standing still on the street, not swaying as the officers had indicated. As for the breath test, Atkinson insists that he complied with requests and blew as hard has he could into the machine.
The judge on the case found that Atkinson was trying to avoid the breath test, and suspended his license for a year. Atkinson plans to appeal, so the suspension won’t take effect until the new ruling is determined.
As this case demonstrates, making a strong defense against allegations such as drunk driving could help a defendant avoid conviction and harsh penalties. While making a defense may not result in all the charges being dismissed, it could help reduce the charges and consequences the accused might face.
Source: Pilot Online, "Virginia Beach city treasurer found not guilty of DWI," Elisabeth Hulerre, June 26, 2015