Can You Get A Fair Trial In A Drunk Driving Case?
Mr. Taylor (retired) describes how the trial for a DUI suspect is often unfair, largely because the DUI system is skewed towards facilitating convictions. In some states, there is no right to a jury trial for a DUI suspect, but in California a DUI suspect still has the right to a jury trial. Defendants in DUI cases are often at a disadvantage because the DUI system is designed to bring about a conviction of the defendant. For example, if the blood alcohol test says that the suspect has a .08 blood alcohol level, then he is presumed to be guilty of DUI and, as such, he now has the burden of proving that he is not guilty of DUI. Furthermore, if, for example, the reading on the breathalyzer reads .09 at the police station, then it is presumed that this was the blood alcohol level of the suspect, some two or three hours earlier when they were driving and got pulled over. And, again, the burden of proof will then be on the defendant to prove the impossible, that he/she was at a .09 blood alcohol two or three hours earlier. A DUI defendant starts their case off at an extreme disadvantage and as such, it is essential that they hire an attorney who is a specialist in DUI defense.
Richard Jacobs (RJ): When you’re trying DUI cases, you know, you’re working on behalf of your defendants, how often is it possible to get even a fair trial? Are things like being denied a jury trial or not having the ability to confront your accusers - these types of things, does it make it very difficult, to even get what you would call a fair trial for your client?
Lawrence Taylor (LT): Well that’s a huge question and I could take about an hour to answer it.
LT: First of all, in terms of a jury trial in California and in most states, we still get a jury trial. In some states, such as Nevada, Louisiana, Hawaii, and in a growing number of states, you do not get a jury trial on at least a first time DUI offense. That’s a disturbing trend. I think, unfortunately, you’re going to see more and more of that over time. For now, in California at least, and in most states you do have the right to a jury trial. Is it a fair trial? Well, no, frankly it’s not and there are a lot of reasons for that. The laws have been changed to favor the prosecution and to facilitate convictions. For example, if the blood alcohol says .08 percent, you are presumed to be guilty of DUI. You may be found guilty of the .08, but you can also be found guilty of the DUI because they presume you’re under the influence. In other words, they disregard your individual tolerance entirely. And, just to put the nail in the coffin, they presume that if the blood test says, for example, .09 or the breath test, three hours or two hours after driving, by law it’s presumed to be the same as at the time of driving.
LT: Which, of course, is ridiculous, any scientist on the planet will tell you that, that’s impossible because of the elimination, absorption rates of the body and so on.
LT: It’s never going to be a straight line, not even for a few minutes much less for two or three hours. So why do they do it? Because the prosecution has no way to prove what your blood alcohol was at the time of driving. All they can say is, three hours later or two hours later at the station, it was .09.
LT: So, the law comes along and says, well we’re going to help you with that. You don’t have to prove it; we’ll make the defendant disprove it. So we’ll presume he’s guilty and let him show. Of course, how do you show that? How do you show your blood alcohol level three hours earlier?
RJ: Now that’s a fundamental difference between innocent until proven guilty, it sounds like.
LT: Yeah, it puts the presumption of, first of all it puts the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than on the prosecution. It takes a presumption of innocence and changes it to a presumption of guilt. Now, I’ve just given one example. There are a lot of examples in DUI cases where the rules are not the same. Does that mean you can’t get a fair trial? Does that mean you can’t win? No, it doesn’t. Quite simply, you’ve got to be better at what you’re doing. You’ve got to be better prepared.
LT: Your experts have got to be better than the prosecution. The DA, is rarely going to be a specialist in DUI. His expert witnesses are not very expert from their crime lab.
LT: Their civil servants, they get paid very little, and he is not going to have the preparation, investigation involved in the case that you are.