Recently, an appellate court in Virginia affirmed a DUI conviction against a defendant who was determined to be the driver at the time of the crash. The court found that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude that the defendant was the driver.
The Facts of the Case
The defendant was driving a car and was involved in a single-car accident that resulted in her co-worker, who was riding in the car at the time, being ejected from the car. A witness observed the crash while at a red light, called 911, and assisted at the scene. Officers arrived at the scene and observed the defendant with glassy eyes, slurred speech, and emitting a strong odor of alcohol. The defendant admitted to drinking alcohol that evening, and after field sobriety tests were conducted on the defendant, she was arrested for DUI. During a hearing, the officer was cross-examined and stated that he could not recall the defendant’s exact answer to his question of whether the defendant was the driver of the vehicle. The officer admitted that it could have been possible that the other officers on the scene had told him that the defendant was the driver of the vehicle, which may have been the reason why his notes did not reflect the fact that he asked the defendant who had been driving.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the evidence failed to establish that she was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the crash based on the officer’s cross-examination answers and because no witness observed her driving at the time of the crash. The defendant ultimately argued that her silence was improperly being used against her as an admission that she was the driver, which was in violation of her Fifth Amendment rights. The circuit court agreed that the defendant’s failure to deny being the driver could not be used as evidence of guilt but still found that there was sufficient evidence supporting that the defendant was guilty. The defendant was convicted of DUI and appealed.
The court explained that circumstantial evidence must include the circumstances of motive, time, place, means, and conduct that links the defendant to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Here, in order for the defendant to be found innocent, that would mean she was not the driver at the time of the crash and that, instead, her co-worker had been driving. However, the witness observed the accident and immediately helped the defendant exit from the driver’s side of the car. During cross-examination, the officer admitted that other officers informed him that the defendant was the driver of the car. Additionally, the vehicle’s license plate and the defendant’s license were both from Alabama, and the defendant expressed “concern and guilt” over the injuries that their co-worker sustained, stating that “it’s still not as bad as having a broken neck.”The court thus found that the lower court had reasonably concluded that the defendant was the driver at the time of the accident and that there was no evidence suggesting that the co-worker was the driver.
Have You Been Charged or Convicted of a DUI Offense in Virginia?
If you have been charged or convicted of a Virginia DUI offense, contact Robinson Law, PLLC, to talk with an experienced criminal defense lawyer today. At Robinson Law, we have expertise in handling matters including DUI offenses, sex offenses, violent crimes, and more. It can make a difference in your case if you have an attorney who is ready to advocate on your behalf and who understands that the circumstances present in each case requires a unique approach. Schedule a free consultation at Robinson Law, PLLC today by calling 703-542-3616.