If you get pulled over, arrested, and charged for driving under the influence, commonly known by its abbreviation (DUI), then you're about to get pulled into the judicial system. While this is not the greatest place to be, it's important to remember that it's also not the end of the world, either. This can be hard to keep in mind, though, because of how stressful the criminal justice system is, and how anxious it can make you feel.
At Lawson and Berry, we understand that, so to help alleviate the stress you're going through, here's a quick synopsis of one of the things that happens after you get charged for DUI: Evidence gathering.
As soon as you get arrested for DUI, law enforcement begins to talk to the local prosecution team, so they can follow up and formally accuse you of the crime. Once this happens, you get charged for DUI, and the prosecution starts gathering evidence so they can prove you're guilty.
You can take all of the evidence out there, and boil them down into two categories: Direct evidence, and circumstantial evidence.
Direct evidence is more convincing than circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is a fact that gets straight to the point that the prosecutor is trying to make. Because the prosecutor is trying to prove that you're guilty of DUI, this means showing that you were driving, while you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or above. Therefore, an example of direct evidence would be a properly administered and scientifically valid breath or blood test, showing that you had a BAC of, for example, 0.12%.
While direct evidence is stronger than circumstantial evidence, most of the pieces of evidence that come out in a DUI case are circumstantial. This is because there aren't very many ways to directly prove that you were driving under the influence, but lots of ways to do it, indirectly.
Circumstantial evidence is a fact that can't get straight to the point that the prosecutor is trying to make. In a DUI case, an example would be a police officer testifying in court that you veered into another lane. Remember that a DUI is about driving with a 0.08% BAC. Not only are there lots of reasons behind veering into another lane that don't involve alcohol, swerving on the road doesn't actually say anything about whether you're over the legal limit. Instead, it only might suggest that you're intoxicated. Going from evidence that you might be intoxicated to being guilty of DUI requires an inference, or a conjecture, or an extra thought to bridge that missing gap.
That missing gap between circumstantial evidence and the point that the prosecutor is trying to make is why circumstantial evidence is weaker than direct evidence. However, there are often numerous pieces of circumstantial evidence that the prosecutor can bring out, in a DUI case. Even though every one of these pieces of evidence is weak, having so many of them can make you feel hopeless, and can convince a jury that you're guilty, simply because of the sheer volume of circumstantial evidence against you.
This is exactly what the prosecutor is going for, and it makes it crucial to remember that every instance of circumstantial evidence, on its own, can be challenged and brought into doubt.
Here's an example of what I mean.
It's a DUI trial. A police officer testifies that he saw you sitting on the side of the road, next to a pickup truck. He says that, when he approached, you had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and asked him where your cell phone was, even though you were texting someone on it. When the officer checked out the car next to you, it was parked terribly, with one wheel over the curb. The policeman says that he asked you to do a field sobriety test, but you weren't able to stand on one leg, so you failed, and he arrested you for drunk driving.
This is a classic example of circumstantial evidence. There are lots of pieces of evidence here, and the sheer number of them makes it seem like a done deal. But not one piece of evidence directly shows that you had a BAC at or above the legal limit. The officer never even took a BAC test. All of the evidence that the policeman is offering as “proof” that you were drunk enough to arrest for DUI is just circumstantial – it shows that you were drunk, but takes another inference to show that your BAC was 0.08% or above.
And then there's the elephant in the room. The officer never saw you drive. He doesn't even actually know that it's your car that you're sitting next to. Even if it was your pickup truck, it still takes a huge inference to get to the idea that you were driving it before the officer appeared on the scene. And while it might seem to help out the prosecutor that the truck was badly parked, it actually doesn't. This is just more circumstantial evidence. The officer wasn't there when it was being parked, so he doesn't know when it happened. It could easily have been parked on your way to the bar. You might have even been texting a friend to come and pick you up, because you'd realized that you weren't able to drive.
Circumstantial evidence is something that criminal defense attorneys enjoy dealing with. Even when the prosecutor walks into the case with lots of it, a good defense attorney can cut through it until the prosecutor has almost nothing left to convict you with. This is especially the case in the DUI context, because so much evidence is merely circumstantial.
We have successfully defended thousands of DUI cases that were largely based on circumstantial evidence, and we can do it again. Contact us now for a free case evaluation.