Michael Phelps’ DUI Arrest in Baltimore: Olympic Gold Medalist arrested on suspicion of DUI

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DUI arrests have long been a hot button issue and fodder for easy headlines, especially when celebrities are involved. So it was no surprise to see the internet light up with this morning’s announcement that Michael Phelps was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Baltimore. What many of the reports have failed to note, however, is that Phelps has the right to the presumption of innocence and due process.

According to local news station WBALTV 11, an officer was driving southbound on the I-395 when a white 2014 Land Rover was picked up by radar and estimated to be traveling 84 mph in a 45 mph zone. Phelps, who was identified during the traffic stop, also allegedly crossed a double lane within the Fort McHenry Tunnel on Interstate 95 around 1:40 a.m. Many news sites noted this is Phelps’ second DUI arrest. According to court records, Phelps who was 19 when previously arrested and was able to plead to a lesser charge and received probation. Finally, the reports note law enforcement claims that Phelps was “unable to perform satisfactorily a series of standard field sobriety tests.”

Already there are several red flags that an experienced DUI attorney would raise based on the scant few details released by police. This includes the relative inaccuracy of radar equipment, which must be calibrated and regularly maintained, and the subjectivity and frequent inaccuracy of standard field sobriety tests, or FSTs as they are referred to in legal circles.

Radar gun Michael Phelps speeding before arrestedIn most jurisdictions radar results are admissible only if the unit has been examined and approved for accuracy by an independent test lab within three years of the date of the incident or traffic stop. Radar devices also must be calibrated, or tuned. According to the legal site AVVO, each radar unit comes with a pair of tuning forks designed to test the unit’s accuracy. AVVO goes on to note that the NHTSA and most manufacturers recommend calibrating the units after every stop and the high courts in Minnesota and Wisconsin have both ruled that a conviction for a speeding offense is invalid if the only method used to calibrate the device immediately prior to the stop was with the device’s own test switch rather than a tuning fork. You can read more about that here.

FSTs can also be challenged on numerous legal grounds. These tests are, even in the best of circumstances, subjective and difficult to execute. A number of issues, ranging from the individual’s weight and height to whether they are taking medication or have a health issue, can result in erroneous assumptions by officers that a driver is impaired or intoxicated.

So far, there has been no mention of his alleged blood alcohol content (BAC) level or if he agreed to a Breathalyzer, also frequently referred to as a breath test, or blood analysis. In Maryland, the vast majority of DUI cases are based on breath tests. Again, these tests can result in false positives due to a number of factors. As I have discussed on my website, breath tests involve the process of extrapolation. The devices measure the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood stream using a partition ratio. The ratio is based on the ratio of alcohol in the breath to the ratio of alcohol in the blood. The problem with such tests is that the ratio is identical for all people, even though human physiology is unique. Anyone who has seen a picture or watched Phelps on TV knows that his physiology is radically different from the average man’s physique. And everybody processes alcohol differently based on their physiology, which includes things like age, gender, ethnicity, whether they’ve eaten recently and what they consumed, and the time of day. Though blood tests are typically more accurate than breath tests, they too can produce erroneous results if the blood sample is not properly taken, stored, and tested by authorities and the lab.

Given all these issues, and considering that it is extremely early in the legal process, we would hope that media sites and the public would refrain from convicting Phelps before he’s even set foot in a court of law. As a law firm that has successfully defended numerous people in Baltimore, and throughout Maryland, against DUI and similar charges we offer out support to Mr. Phelps and would gladly defend him against these charges.