If you've been arrested and charged for driving under the influence, also known as a DUI charge, then the prosecutor and law enforcement are working together to gather all of the evidence that they can find to support the charge.
This is stressful. It's nerve wracking. But remember that a DUI charge is just an accusation. They still have far to go, in order to back up that accusation and turn it into a conviction.
Sometimes, it's helpful to understand just how the prosecutor and law enforcement are working to gather their evidence. Knowing what they're doing, and what they're trying to do, can be a great strategy to prepare yourself for what's coming. This also helps to deal with the stress of the situation, right now, because it helps you develop a plan, and feel secure that you're going to follow it.
One thing to understand about the case – or any case, for that matter – is that there are several different kinds of evidence. Some types of evidence carry a lot of weight, while other types don't carry much weight, at all. This makes it important to carefully look at all of the evidence that the prosecutor plans to present at your trial.
Direct evidence is one of the kinds of evidence that has a lot of weight. Direct evidence goes straight to the point that the prosecutor is trying to make. When it comes to a DUI charge, the point that the prosecutor is trying to make is that you were driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or above. An example of direct evidence, then, is a breath test showing a BAC over the legal limit, if that breath test is scientifically valid, and was properly given.
While this kind of evidence is strong, and can be difficult to attack in some situations, the fact is that police are rarely able to get much direct evidence that you're guilty of a DUI. The nature of DUI cases means that law enforcement relies much, much more on another type of evidence: Circumstantial evidence.
Circumstantial evidence is much weaker than direct evidence, because it doesn't get straight to the point that the prosecutor is trying to make. Instead, it relies on an inference, or an additional step of logic, to get from the evidence to the prosecutor's point.
Here's one example that might help you see what circumstantial evidence is. At trial, a policeman testifies that he saw you veer into another lane on the highway, and then swerve back. This testimony is being used by the prosecution to show that you were guilty of DUI, which requires them to show that you had an illegally high BAC while driving. Does veering on the highway show that you have a BAC of at or above 0.08%?
No. Not only are there lots of other reasons why someone would veer into another lane on the highway that don't involved alcohol, but even if swerving on the freeway was always a sign that you were drunk, it doesn't directly say that your BAC is over the legal limit. Instead, it takes an extra thought, an inference, to get from swerving on the highway to a DUI.
Unfortunately, when the prosecutor lines up lots and lots of circumstantial evidence, it can be overwhelming to both you and the jury. The sheer volume of the evidence can make it seem like there's no way that you're innocent.
Prosecutors do this a lot. They know that there's enough of an emotional effect from having so much evidence that, oftentimes, the evidence they have doesn't even have to be very strong to get a conviction. This makes it incredibly important to have a DUI defense attorney like me who knows how to poke holes in all of the prosecutor's circumstantial evidence, and show just how weak it really is, no matter how much of it they have.
Here's another example.
The prosecutor calls a police officer to testify during trial. The officer says that he saw you sitting on the roadside, next to a car. When he went over to see if everything was alright, he says that you had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and asked him if he'd seen your cell phone, even though you were busy texting someone on it. When the officer looked at the car, he says that it was parked with one wheel over the curb. When the policeman asked you to do a field sobriety test, you couldn't stand on one leg. Because of all this, he arrested you for drunk driving.
That's a lot of evidence! But that's exactly what the prosecutor wants you to think, and that's why they had this officer testify. So let's look at what he said closely.
First off, all of what the officer said about how drunk you looked is circumstantial. They need to show that your BAC was at or over 0.08%. All that they have is how drunk you looked and acted. This doesn't directly say that you were over that limit. We can challenge that!
Second, and more importantly, the policeman never saw you drive. He was only guessing that you were driving – another inference – from the fact that you were sitting next to the car. He doesn't even know if it was yours, or not! He's even using the fact that the car wasn't parked well to show that you had a BAC over the limit. There are a lot of inferences there! Even if it was your car, there's nothing to say that you didn't park there on your way to the bar, and were actually texting a friend to pick you up.
See how quickly all of that evidence suddenly sounded pretty weak? Criminal defense attorneys can do this to circumstantial evidence, especially if they're experienced at defending the type of charge against you. As a DUI defense specialist, I'm experienced and practiced in defending against DUI charges. If you're facing a DUI charge, give me a call at (404) 816-4440.