How the rules of evidence and lawyers' objections shape the course of a DWI trial
While what the prosecutor and the DUI defense lawyer say are an important part of any drunk driving trial, their words are not evidence. No amount of arguing or theater from a prosecutor can convict you of DUI without evidence to support it.
What is evidence in a criminal or DUI trial?
Evidence is the legal term used to describe the facts of the case. It can be presented in many ways, including through testimony, through documents, through audio or video recordings, and through a show and tell type viewing of physical objects.
All evidence in a DUI trial is subject to the rules of evidence.
Each trial is subject to the rules of evidence. In most DUI cases, it is the state and local rules of evidence (as opposed to the Federal Rules Of Evidence used in Federal Court) which dictate which evidence will be heard or seen by a jury, and which will be excluded from the jury's view.
Evidence must be relevant.
As a starting point, any and all evidence introduced in a DUI trial must be relevant. This means that the presentation of the evidence must make a fact in question more or less likely than if the evidence was not presented. It also means that if a fact is not relevant it won't be allowed. For example, many DUI defendants want to argue that they have never had a DUI before. Even if this is a fact, it is unlikely to make it more of less likely that they committed the DUI on the night in question. Therefore, must DUI judges will exclude it from evidence.
Evidence must not be unduly prejudicial.
Even if evidence is relevant, the prejudice of the evidence must not outweigh its value in proving the case. For example, if you had to have your stomach pumped after you were arrested, that is highly relevant to showing that you probably had too much to drink. Despite it's relevance, some judges will not allow such evidence because hearing it may cause the jury to give it undue weight. In other words, if a jury hears that you had your stomach pumped they are going to assume the worse to the exclusion of other evidence. The more fair evidence would be a breath or blood test, since you could have had food poisoning independently of alcohol intoxication, and it could have caused the medical need for a stomach pumping.
Objections to evidence during a DUI trial.
We are all familiar with dramatic movie and TV objections. In fact, very few court dramas have fewer than three objections per trial scene. Here's what you may not know objections are used for.
- Objections are necessary to "preserve the record." This means that if a lawyer fails to object, you can't complain about it later on. For example, if there is something wrong with the DUI breath test and your lawyer sits silently as it is admitted into evidence against you, your DUI attorney would have forfeited your right to complain about the evidence to an appeals court in the event you are convicted of DUI.
- Objections may be used for theatrical purposes, to draw the jury's attention away from an issue, to interrupt the flow of an examination, to buy time, as an excuse to approach the bench on another issue, and for many other things besides simply preserving the record for appeal. These types of objections take lawyers years to master, and are more art than science.
Objections prior to trial.
Objections to anticipated evidence may be brought before a jury ever enters the courtroom. These are typically referred to as "motions in limine." In other words, they are motions to presumptively limit evidence that will be brought. If an objection or motion in limine is overruled, then the evidence is presented to the jury. In the case of a motion in limine, it may not be necessary for the DUI defense lawyer to object a second time to preserve the record for appeal.
It is extremely important that you select a DUI lawyer who is intimately familiar with the rules of evidence, and who is experienced and comfortable making and meeting objections to DUI evidence.