DUI Defense

Huntsville DUI Defense Lawyer

Available for a Free Initial Consultation 24/7

A DUI charge is a serious matter. In Alabama, a conviction can result in jail time, loss of driver license, and have detrimental consequences for your current employment and the future of your career. If you have been arrested for DUI, you need an attorney with experience defending against DUI charges.  

Frank Ward has represented hundreds of people charged with DUI in Alabama. He has helped many of those clients avoid DUI convictions, many in situations that seemed hopeless. 

Types of DUI defense we offer include:

Mr. Ward is recognized for his leadership in the field of DUI defense. He was a co-author of the Alabama DUI Handbook, a comprehensive reference book on Alabama DUI defense for attorneys. He became a member of the National College for DUI Defense since 2010. He has given presentations to other Alabama attorneys on the subject of Alabama DUI defense. 

If you are facing a DUI criminal charge in Alabama, don’t despair. There is hope. Let Mr. Ward put his experience to work for you. Call our Huntsville DUI defense attorney at (256) 578-7729 or fill out our online contact form today.

Frequently Asked Alabama DUI Questions

Have questions? We are here to help. Still have questions or can't find the answer you need? Give us a call at 256-578-7729 today!

  • Where is Alabama’s DUI law found?
    Every state has its own Driving Under the Influence (DUI) statute, although some states refer to the offense by slightly different names, such as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Operating Under the Influence (OUI), or Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). Alabama’s DUI statute is found in Section 32-5A-191 of the Code of Alabama.
  • Is a DUI charge in Alabama a misdemeanor or felony?

    Most DUI charges in Alabama are misdemeanors. In Alabama, a DUI is only a felony if you have previously been convicted of a felony DUI or you have three or more prior DUI convictions within the 10 years preceding the latest new DUI offense.

  • What are the ways a person can be charged with DUI in Alabama?

    The offense of DUI in Alabama is charged in one of five different ways.

    1. DUI – Illegal Blood Alcohol Concentration

    Alabama’s DUI law lists several different ways a person can be charged with driving under the influence. A person can be charge with driving while having an illegal blood alcohol concentration. This illegal blood alcohol level is generally a 0.08% BAC or higher. However, for certain groups of people – those under 21 years of age, school bus or daycare drivers, or drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), there are even lower limits.

    2. DUI – Under the Influence of Alcohol

    In addition to being charged with having an illegal blood alcohol limit, a person can also be charged with simply driving under the influence alcohol. This is generally how a person is charged with DUI if he or she refused to take the breath test “offered” at the police station or jail. However, it is also common to see DUI charged in this way for cases where a breath test was performed or even a blood test was administered.

    3. DUI – Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

    While people most commonly think of DUI in the context of alcohol, drug or medication related DUI charges are also very common. Alabama maintains a Controlled Substance List. If the police believe a person in driving under the influence of a substance on this list, they will typically charge the person with driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Marijuana is probably the most common controlled substance that forms the basis of a DUI arrest. However, prescription medication DUIs are very common as well. Many people are surprised to find that having a prescription for a medication is not a defense to a controlled substance DUI charge. Even with a prescription, if the substance renders you uncapable of safely operating a vehicle, then you can be charged with DUI.

    4. DUI – Combined Influence of Alcohol and a Controlled Substance

    Police typically charge a person with a combined influence DUI if they suspect the person has been using both alcohol and a substance on the controlled substance list. A person can be convicted for a combined influence DUI even if the amounts of alcohol and controlled substance in their system, taken separately, would be insufficient to render them unsafe to drive. The relevant question in these cases is if the combined effect is enough to render their operation of a motor vehicle unsafe.

    5. DUI – Any Substance

    Alabama’s DUI statute has a catchall provision for cases where the police believe a person is under the influence of something that is not alcohol or on the controlled substance list. Alabama enacted this subsection of the DUI statute to prevent the loophole of people driving under the influence of new drugs or substances that affect a person’s safety, but which have not been added to the controlled substance list for whatever reason. Alabama’s courts have made clear that it is improper to use this section to charge an alcohol DUI.

  • Do you have to actually drive to be guilty of DUI?
    No. While the word “drive” in right there in the name of “Driving Under the Influence,” in Alabama you can still be found guilty of DUI even if you never drove your vehicle. Alabama’s DUI statute makes it a crime not just to drive but also to “be in actual physical control of any vehicle” under the influence. What constitutes actual physical control? The answer used to be much clearer back in the mid-1980s than it is now. Back then Alabama relied on a three-part test to determine if a person was in actual physical control. See, Key v. Town of Kinsey, 424, So.2d 701 (Ala. Crim. App. 1982). Under that test, the prosecution had to prove that the accused person had actual or constructive possession of the vehicle’s key or that no key was needed. The prosecution also had to prove that the person had been behind the wheel and that, but for being intoxicated, the person had the ability to operate the vehicle. Finally, they had to prove that the vehicle was operable to some extent. The strict reliance on this three-part test came to an end in 1986 when the Alabama Supreme Court held that Alabama courts should instead look at the “totality of the circumstances” when determining if a person was in actual physical control. Cagle v. City of Gadsden, 495 So. 2d 1144 (Ala. 1986).
  • Is it illegal to “drink and drive”?
    No. It is not illegal to consume alcohol, then drive. However, it becomes illegal if you are driving a vehicle with at least a certain legally defined blood alcohol level or if the amount of alcohol you have consumed has rendered you unsafe to drive.
  • If I have a prescription for my medication, can I still be found guilty of DUI?

    Yes. If you have been charged with Driving Under the Influence of a “controlled substance” or “any substance,” the fact that you had a prescription for the medication you were taking is not a defense. However, the prosecution must prove that the substance at issue actually rendered you unsafe to operate a motor vehicle.

  • How long does a prior Alabama DUI conviction stay on your record or impact the sentencing range of a new DUI?

    Under Alabama law, a DUI conviction (unless you are a juvenile or “youthful offender”) stays on your Alabama criminal record forever. However, as it relates to a new misdemeanor DUI charge, an old misdemeanor DUI conviction only impacts the statutory sentencing range for the new DUI charge if the old conviction occurred less than 10 years prior to the new DUI offense. However, if you have a prior felony DUI conviction, it will affect the sentencing range of the new DUI charge no matter how long ago it occurred.

  • Does an Alabama DUI conviction have additional consequences for a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) holder?

    Yes. In addition to the normal consequences of a DUI conviction, a CDL holder who is convicted of DUI will have his/her CDL disqualified for a minimum of 1 year. See Alabama’s Uniform Commercial Driver License Act, found at Ala. Code 32-6-49.1, et seq. and 49. C.F.R. § 383.51. This can be devastating for commercial driver license holders, such as 18-wheeler truck drivers, whose employment requires operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).

  • I know I had too much to drink and should not have been driving, is there any hope of avoiding a DUI conviction?

    Yes. In fact, in most DUI cases that end without a DUI conviction, it is not because the person was actually “innocent.” There are may ways a DUI case can be won. Here are just a few examples. In the United States, it is generally illegal for the police to stop a vehicle unless they have “reasonable suspicion” to do so. The police just having a hunch that you may be driving under the influence is not enough. A good DUI attorney may be able to get the case against you dismissed because the police lacked reasonable suspicion. Let’s look at another example.

    In the United States, the police must have “probable cause” to arrest you. Even if the police had reasonable suspicion to have you pull over, they may not have probable cause to arrest you because probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. If you are arrested without the police having probable cause, then evidence they gain after the arrest, such as a breath test, can be thrown out by the court, resulting in your case being dismissed or you being found not guilty.

    When deciding to pursue a DUI charge against a person, police and prosecutors often rely on standardized field sobriety tests. These tests have strict rules for how they are supposed to be administered. Frequently, however, the police administer these tests improperly or interpret the results incorrectly. A good DUI attorney may be able to keep the field sobriety tests from coming into evidence or use the officer’s mistakes to discredit the tests.

    In Alabama, as in the rest of the United States, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you attorney can show in trial that there is a reasonable doubt, then you are entitled to be found not guilty even if the evidence against you is enough to prove that you probably were driving under the influence.

    A good DUI defense attorney may be able to get the prosecutor and court to agree to dismiss the DUI charge against you even in cases where you would likely lose if the case goes to trial. This can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, especially if you have a clean record, the prosecutor may be convinced by your attorney to show mercy and agree to drop the charges upon the payment of court costs or upon the completion of certain conditions. Some court jurisdiction even programs, typically called DUI diversion programs, pre-trial intervention programs (“PTIP”) or deferred prosecution programs, which are aimed at helping first time offenders avoid having a conviction on their records. A good DUI lawyer may be able to help you in determining if you are eligible for such a program and in getting the prosecutor and court to agree to let you participate in such a program.

  • What is the punishment for a first offense misdemeanor DUI conviction in Alabama?

    There are certain factors that can enhance the punishment for a first offense misdemeanor Alabama DUI conviction. However, here is the baseline punishment for a person’s first DUI conviction.

    Jail/Imprisonment: Between 0 days in jail all the way up to one year.

    Fine: Between $600 and $2,100.

    Driver License Suspension: 90 days all of which may be stayed and commuted if the person opts to submit to having an ignition interlock device installed in his or her motor vehicle for 90 days (or 1 year, if the person refused the breath test at the police station/jail, blew .15% or higher, had passenger under 14 years old, or if someone else was injured). Note that CDL holders are not entitled to have suspension time stayed or commuted by opting for ignition interlock.

    Ignition Interlock: If the person refused the breath test at the police station/jail, blew .15% or higher, had passenger under 14 years old, or if someone else was injured, then 1 year mandatory ignition interlock will be imposed. Even if none of none of the factor listed in the prior sentence apply, the person may still opt to complete 90 days of ignition interlock, instead of 90 days of driver license suspension. Note that CDL holders are not entitled to have suspension time under this section commuted through ignition interlock.

    Court Referral Program: The person must complete a court mandated court referral program.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Officers in Alabama are trained to administer three “standardized” field sobriety tests (SFSTs), which were standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and promoted nationally. The SFSTs are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN), Walk and Turn test (WAT), and the One Leg Stand test (OLS). Other tests are sometimes given at roadside (e.g., ABCs, Backward Count, Finger-to-nose), but these are not “standardized.” There is no criminal or civil penalty for refusing field sobriety tests.

The standardized test are supposed to be given the same way ever time, and the officer is supposed to be looking for certain standard clues. If the test is not administered according to the standardized method, its reliability is undermined. The SFSTs aren’t terribly reliable even when administered properly, but that’s a topic for another CLE. Per NHTSA’s own literature, the SFSTs are not pass/fail tests, but merely tools to assist officers in seeing signs of impairment.

Horizonatal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN)

The first test in the SFST battery is the HGN test. The “horizontal gaze nystagmus” refers to involuntary jerking of the eyes, occurring as the eyes gaze to the side. Alcohol can cause horizontal gaze nystagmus, but so can other substances as well as certain disorders and diseases, (e.g., brain tumors, brain damage, some diseases of the inner ear). The procedures that the officer is to follow in administering HGN are found in Session 8, the NHTSA SFST Participant Manual. Participant Manual: DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) (NHTSA 2015).

There are three clues the officer is supposed to look for when conducting the HGN:

  • Lack of smooth pursuit
  • Distinct and sustained Nystagmus at maximum deviation
  • Onset of Nystagmus prior to 45 degrees

The HGN, unlike the WAT and OLS, is scientific in nature. For many years the law in Alabama, for practical purposes, did not permit officer’s to testify about HGN results. Without going into too much depth, an officer could theoretically lay the propter foundation regarding  the scientific reliability of the test and the officer’s expertise in conducting the it.See, Malone v. City of Silverhill, 575 So. 2d 101 (Ala. Crim. App. 1989). However, the prosecution was generally not able to establish this predicate. This is because the case law made clear that officers who just received the typical police academy training on administering the HGN were at most qualified to administer the test. They were not qualified to give evidence to demonstrate the reliability of either the HGN test or the scientific principles upon which it is based. In most instances, the State did not even try to admit the HGN test results. For past Alabama cases discussing HGN, see Malone v. City of Silverhill, 575 So. 2d 101 (Ala. Crim. App. 1989); Ex parte Malone, 575 So.2d 106 (Ala. 1990); Sides v. State, 574 So.2d 856 (Ala. Crim. App. 1990); and Blake v. State, 581 So. 2d 1282 (Ala. Crim. App. 1991). However, in 2021, Alabama passed a law specifically allowing certain testimony based on the results of the HGN test by law enforcement witnesses. Alabama Code § 32-5A-196.

Walk and Turn Test (WAT)

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What Sets Us Apart?

The Right Firm Makes a Difference
  • Experienced
    Attorney Ward has represented clients throughout North Alabama for more than 15 years and tried cases in many courts. He has even co-authored a book for other attorneys on Alabama DUI defense.
  • Focused
    Mr. Ward endeavors to never lose focus on the needs of his clients, and to do his utmost to achieve their goals.  Let him focus on your needs and get you results.
  • Driven
    The practice of law is not just a job for him; it is his passion. He is driven to strive for the best possible outcome he can for each of his clients, and he wants to put that drive to work for you.

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