DUI charges can be devastating to licensed professionals, both in their careers and in their personal life. The impact of alcohol or drug-related convictions can be especially damaging to the life of licensed civilian pilots or airmen in the armed services.
Every pilot who experiences an alcohol or drug-related arrest, especially one involving DUI, should immediately contact a DUI defense lawyer with experience handling offenses involving pilots and managing the formal notices required by FAA rules.
No pilot can count on keeping their medical clearance or pilot’s certificate following a DUI conviction. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we understand that defeating the prosecution’s case is a priority and that no alternative disposition is suitable unless it is likely to preserve a pilot’s ability to fly.
Independent Review by FAA
The FAA’s Safety Management System (SMS) mandates that licensed pilots report every alcohol-related motor vehicle action (MVA) taken by local or state authorities against the pilot to the Regulatory Investigations Division of the Security and Hazardous Materials Safety Office as soon as possible. This “notification letter” must be filed with the FAA within 60 days of the incident.
“Motor Vehicle Actions” covered by the rule include not only convictions but also any pretrial administrative driver’s license suspensions, cancelations, or revocations. Any denial of a driver’s license reinstatement based on an alcohol or drug-related incident must also be reported to the FAA. Another notification letter must be filed within 60 days of any conviction.
DUI convictions are certain to cause some sanction to be imposed, suspending, or restricting a pilot’s ability to fly.
More than one DUI event, especially convictions, is probably an unsurmountable obstacle to regaining a flight rating.
Successful DUI Defense Is Available
DUI charges can be effectively defended by skilled DUI defense attorneys who have concentrated on the study and practice of DUI law. Unlike many other criminal offenses, practicing DUI defense requires a deep understanding of human physiology and the neurochemical impact of alcohol and drugs on the brain and the nervous system.
Probable cause to arrest a DUI suspect usually relies very heavily on the arresting officer’s report of the driver’s performance during field sobriety tests. These tests are each based on scientific theories that presume these field sobriety tests are administered according to the testing protocol. Any deviation from the protocol compromises the reliability of the test and the officer’s conclusions.
DUI defense requires years of courtroom experience where expertise is accumulated and applied in a technical strategy to undermine the persuasiveness and validity of the prosecutor’s evidence.
Effective DUI defense is not something every criminal defense lawyer can deliver. At Stechschulte Nell, our Board-Certified defense lawyer Ben Stechschulte has years of DUI experience as both a prosecutor and defense counsel.
FAA Aviation Medical Examination Following DUI Event
Following a pilot’s involvement in a DUI incident, whether they suffer a conviction or win acquittal, an FAA aviation medical examiner (AME) will conduct a complete review of the pilot’s physical and mental health to determine whether the person has a substance use disorder or the incident triggering the examination was a solitary lapse of judgment with no underlying source of concern.
The post-DUI arrest investigation and medical examiner’s recommendation will be strongly influenced by past behavior, the relative seriousness of the DUI facts, and as many supportive documents as the pilot can present indicating that their life is full, and the incident is unlikely to be repeated.
The AME will err on the side of caution. Approving a medical certificate for a pilot who drove a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs means trusting expensive aircraft and perhaps the lives of hundreds of passengers to that pilot. The human and liability consequences of making the wrong call are incalculable.
It is likely that even with a DUI acquittal or other exoneration, the pilot may need to submit to counseling and treatment before a full medical certificate is issued.
When seeking a new pilot’s certification, the AME may defer a pilot’s application for medical certification:
- Pilot did not submit to a blood-alcohol test at the time of your DUI arrest.
- Pilot’s BAC was higher than .15.
- Pilot has a criminal record from the previous two years.
- Pilot had three or more arrests in your lifetime or two within the last 10 years.
- Pilot did not submit the proper medical certification documents before the deadline.
And remember, even if the FAA does permit a pilot to escape sanctions or resume their certificate, an employer’s company policies or HR rules can disrupt or end their contract to fly for that airline.
Effectively Defending a DUI Is the Best Protection Against FAA Sanctions
While the FAA’s ultimate action or inaction is outside of your ultimate control, your best chance of prevailing in any FAA investigation is to defeat the DUI charge and avoid an alcohol or drug-related conviction.
The best DUI defense lawyer in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County analyzes a DUI’s evidence on multiple layers. There are several significant and distinct phases of a DUI, and successfully challenging the evidence at any one of these stages will usually lead to a favorable outcome for the defendant.
- Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to Stop the Driver
- Police Observations During Interaction with Driver
- Field Sobriety Tests and Probable Cause to Arrest
- Warnings Required by Law
- Pre-Breathalyzer Protocol
- Breathalyzer Administered Properly (w/ Certifications)
- Accurate and Timely Filing of Reports
Each phase of the DUI arrest process presents police with specific technical tasks they must complete to move to the next phase.
Police must explain the reasonable articulable suspicion that caused them to conduct the traffic stop. When police don’t relate a sufficiently satisfactory reason for the stop, the case will be dismissed.
If an officer stops a car reasonably, they must then have factual grounds to reasonably suspect that the driver is under the influence. The odor of alcohol alone is not enough.
If the officer cites reasonable grounds to suspect the driver is DUI, then they may “request” that the driver perform several field sobriety tests. The driver may legally refuse. The only purpose of the field sobriety tests is to generate evidence to serve as probable cause to arrest the driver. Without the field sobriety tests, the officer may lack probable cause to arrest the driver.
Learn More > What is Probable Cause for a DUI in Florida?
Field Sobriety Tests
The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) must be conducted in conformity with the protocols designed by the test creators. Administering the SFSTs improperly can render their results unreliable and inadmissible in evidence for probable cause.
The breathalyzer must be recently certified as operating properly, calibrated, and in good maintenance, with records establishing these criteria. The operator must also be certified. The pre-test process must be followed, including continual observation of the driver, reading required warnings, and giving proper instructions to the testing subject.
This is merely an outline of a proper DUI defense. Make sure your DUI defense lawyer is exceptionally adept at working with all of these and more DUI basics before you trust your pilot’s certificate to them.
Charged With a DUI?
If you are a pilot and have been charged with a DUI, it is crucial to hire an experienced DUI attorney to fight for you on your behalf. Call our attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law at 813-280-1244 for a free DUI case review today. We are on your side.