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Tacoma Washington Court Discusses Pre-Arrest Statements in DUI Cases

by | May 21, 2024 | DUI

In DUI cases, the prosecution will often rely on chemical testing demonstrating a defendant’s BAC to establish guilt. Guilt can be established via other means, though, such as circumstantial evidence. Further, as shown in a recent DUI case, merely because a court admits a defendant’s pre-arrest statements, does not mean a conviction should be vacated. If you are accused of driving while intoxicated, it is wise to meet with a Tacoma DUI defense lawyer to discuss your rights.

Facts of the Case and Procedural History

It is alleged that in May 2019, a witness plaintiff encountered a car that had skidded off an off-ramp near Bellingham. She observed a person in the driver’s seat, later identified as the defendant, who appeared intoxicated and pleaded with the plaintiff not to call 911. When emergency responders arrived, they noted the strong smell of alcohol on the defendant, who stated she was not driving, was not supposed to be driving, and asked them not to say she was driving.

It is reported that the defendant was charged with DUI. At trial, the defendant testified that she was not the driver of the vehicle involved in the incident, claiming that a friend was driving. No witnesses saw her driving that night, and there was no direct evidence linking her to the driver’s seat at the time of the incident. However, the prosecution presented circumstantial evidence, including testimony from an officer who found the defendant alone in the car, which was still running with the keys in the ignition, and the defendant’s statements. the jury found her guilty of felony DUI. She then challenged her verdict.

Admission of Pre-Arrest Statements in DUI Cases

On review, the defendant argued that her statements should have been excluded and, in part arguing that the court lacked sufficient evidence to establish her guilt. She was relying on the corpus delecti doctrine requiring corroborating evidence before statements can be admitted. The court disagreed on both counts and affirmed her conviction.

In doing so, the court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that her statements were inadmissible under the corpus delicti doctrine. The court explained that corpus delicti, meaning the “body of the crime,” requires independent evidence sufficient to support the inference that a crime occurred, which cannot be based solely on the defendant’s confession. The court found that the circumstantial evidence, such as the defendant being found alone in the running vehicle and the absence of any other individuals at the scene, provided sufficient independent corroboration. Thus, the corpus delicti rule was satisfied.

Further, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction. The court reviewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and concluded that a rational trier of fact could find the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Such evidence included the defendant’s own statements, the officer’s observations, and the lack of other individuals at the scene, all supporting the conclusion that the defendant was the driver. As such, the court affirmed her conviction.

Meet with a Skilled Tacoma Attorney

DUI offenses can result in severe penalties, but simply because a person is accused of driving under the influence does not mean they will be convicted. It is essential, therefore, for those charged with DUI crimes to explore their possible defenses. If you are accused of driving under the influence, you should meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The skilled Tacoma DUI defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Smith & White can inform you of your rights and aid you in seeking a good result. You can reach us via our form online or by calling us at 253-203-1645 to set up a meeting.