To prove DUI, they must prove… driving

It may go without saying, but in order for the prosecution to prove a case of DUI against you, they have to be able to prove you were driving. I’ve talked before about problems with the blood alcohol results and the defenses you may have against a DUI charge.  But aside from those defenses, what about proving who was driving?

I was talking with an attorney friend of mine the other day and we were swapping current case stories & brainstorming about them. He’s an attorney with 40 years experience. Both of us had noticed a trend in several recent cases we were handling. DUI charges were filed, but we thought the DA wasn’t going to be able to prove the main element: driving.

There’s a concept in criminal law known as the corpus delicti  (or the “corpus/cop-out”) rule. For every crime, there are elements. Those elements form the corpus delicti or “body” of the crime. (It’s not the corpse or victim in a murder case.)  Before the prosecution can introduce a defendant’s statements into evidence, they must prove each element of the “body” of the crime first. Too often, DAs will see in a police report that the defendant admitted certain aspects of the crime and forget about this corpus/cop-out rule.

Take this example:  The police come across the scene of a solo vehicle accident. A car has run into a telephone pole. There are several people standing around, but nobody is behind the wheel. Suppose the officer walked up to one person in the group and asked if he was the driver (who later turned out to be drunk).  If that person said yes, they’ve admitted a necessary element of the crime. Case closed?  Nope.

The case of People v. Moreno (1987) 188 CA3d 1179 dealt with this very scenario. Before the admission of driving (the “cop-out”) can be admitted into evidence, the DA must put on evidence that the other people standing around were excluded as the driver of the car.

The corpus delicti rule applies to every criminal charge, not just DUI.  In addition to challenges to any statement you may have given, I can analyze your case – from drunk driving to murder and everything in between.  Even if you made a statement during an investigation, don’t assume you’re stuck. Call me for a consultation.

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