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Washington Court Discusses Evidence in Tacoma DUI Cases

by | Apr 9, 2024 | DUI, DUI and Evidence

In Tacoma, Washington, it is unlawful to operate a vehicle while impaired due to alcohol, and anyone who does so may face criminal charges. In most instances, the State will possess direct evidence that a person charged with a DUI crime was operating the vehicle while allegedly under the influence. If they do not, however, they may rely on circumstantial evidence, like observations from witnesses, as demonstrated in a recent Washington DUI case. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is sensible to retain a Tacoma DUI crime defense attorney to help you protect your interests.

History of the Case

It is reported that police responded to an incident that occurred late at night when a witness encountered a car off the North Lake Samish exit of Interstate 5 near Bellingham. She observed a person, identified as the defendant, rummaging inside the car and then exiting it. The witness called 911, and an EMT and a police officer arrived at the scene. The EMT and officer both detected the smell of alcohol on the defendant. The defendant made statements to both the EMT and officer indicating she was not driving the vehicle. Despite attempts by the officer to administer a breath test, the defendant refused. The defendant was subsequently charged with felony DUI.

Allegedly, the central issue during the trial was whether the defendant was the driver of a car that had veered off the road. During the trial, the defendant contested the admissibility of her statements under the corpus delicti doctrine, challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her conviction, and objected to the admission of evidence related to her refusal to take a breath test. The trial court admitted the defendant’s statements made to the EMT and officer before her arrest but excluded statements made at the jail, except for her refusal to take the breath test. Despite the defendant’s challenges, she was found guilty as charged, after which she appealed.

Evidence in DUI Cases

On appeal, the court first addressed the defendant’s argument regarding the admissibility of her statements under the corpus delicti doctrine. The court explained that corpus delicti requires independent evidence sufficient to support the inference that a crime took place, independent of the defendant’s statements. The court found that the evidence, including observations made by witnesses and the circumstances of the accident, independently corroborated the defendant’s involvement as the driver, satisfying the corpus delicti rule.

Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, the court concluded that the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient for any rational trier of fact to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court then addressed the defendant’s arguments regarding procedural issues during the trial, including the right to counsel and the admission of evidence related to her refusal to take a breath test. However, the court found these arguments either not properly raised or were not of a  constitutional dimension, and thus declined to review them.

Finally, regarding the defendant’s sentence, the court determined that the trial court had erred in imposing supervision fees and the VPA. The court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to strike these fees from the defendant’s sentence.

Speak to an Assertive Tacoma Attorney

If you are charged with a DUI crime, there may be defenses you can assert to avoid a conviction, and you should speak to an attorney. The assertive Tacoma criminal defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White take pride in helping people navigate the complexities of criminal matters, and if you hire us, we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us through our form online or by calling us at (253) 203-1645 to set up a conference.