Is Double Jeopardy A Viable Defense For A DUI?

8 October 2015
 Categories: Law, Articles

There are a several DUI defenses that could be used to reduce or eliminate charges you may be facing for driving under the influence. One of the more interesting tactics is to claim double jeopardy when faced with two distinct punishments for the same incident, as happens in states where the defendant is both criminally and administratively punished for a DUI. Here's more information about this DUI double jeopardy argument and whether this is a good strategy for winning your case.

Two Punishments, One Incident

Multiple charges for the same incident are fairly standard procedure in criminal cases. If the prosecution claims you were driving drunk, you could face a minimum of two charges: one for driving under the influence and one for blowing above the legal limit on a breathalyzer machine.

No matter how many charges the prosecution may bring against you, though, the law only allows defendants to be convicted and punished once for the incident. Specifically, the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits courts from assigning multiple separate punishments for the same offense. The only exception to this rule is in a dual sovereignty situation where the federal and state government is prosecuting a person for the same crime because the individual broke both federal and state laws.

Unfortunately, in some states, defendants are being punished twice for the same offense. In California, for example, defendants must go through a criminal trial with the criminal court and an administrative trial with the DMV. The difference between the two trials is that the purpose of DMV trial is only to determine if the defendant's license should be suspended or revoked. The criminal trial, of course, is to hand down the punishment outlined in the criminal code for the offense.

However, the result of these two separate trials would appear to be that the defendant faces two separate punishments for the same DUI incident, something that goes against the Fifth Amendment.

The Difficulty of Making the Case for Double Jeopardy

The trouble with using double jeopardy as a defense in DUI cases lies in what the state considers a punishment. Most everyone who has ever had their driver's license taken away would consider that to be a punishment. However, the government does not agree with that assessment for a couple of reasons.

First, the government considers driving to be a privilege and not a right. People have the right to not be incarcerated without reason. However, they don't have a right to drive. The ability to operate a motor vehicle is considered a privilege granted by the state based on the person's demonstrated ability to safely operate said vehicle and obey traffic laws. When an individual indicates he or she is not able to follow the rules of the road by breaking traffic laws or getting a DUI, the state is allowed to take away the person's ability to get on the road.

Secondly, the state considers the suspension or revocation of a driver's license to be a preventative rather than punitive measure. The government views this action as keeping people from driving while intoxicated in the future rather than punishing people for driving under the influence in the past.

To be sure, there are situations where the way the prosecution handles a DUI case does actually put the defendant in double jeopardy of either multiple convictions or multiple punishments for the same crime. For instance, a Georgia man was involved in an accident and cited at the scene for following too closely. He was sentenced to pay a fine for that incident. However, a couple of months later when his blood tests returned from the lab indicating he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, the prosecutor charged him with a DUI.

Since both charges arose out of the same incident and Georgia law prohibits the state from prosecuting and convicting the same person for the same conduct multiple times, the defendant rightfully argued that the second prosecution violated the law. Unfortunately for the defendant, the Court of Appeals sided with the state, stating that since the prosecutor didn't know about and wasn't involve in the prior action, the man's rights weren't violated.

The courts don't always get things right, which is why it's essential for people who are charged with DUIs to work with attorneys who can protect their legal interests. Even if double jeopardy is not a good strategy for fighting a DUI, there are plenty of other defenses that may work. Contact a criminal defense attorney for more information. You can also visit sites like to learn more.