Wheeling the defendant is important for prosecutors as an evidentiary issue in proving the elements of driving or operating DWI case. Simply seeing the defendant behind the wheel and the car in gear can be enough. If the only reasonable inference is that a person drove the car, the prosecution does not have to have a witness say that he saw the defendant driving his car. His confession may also be enough. Courts have held that a defendant’s statement that he was the driver, together with a witness’ statement that he saw the defendant in the driver’s seat within minutes of the accident, was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the driver. Officers should always check for seatbelt injuries and steering wheel injuries at the scene of the accident. In serious accident cases, officers should consider blood fiber, and trace evidence from the car (or windshield, etc.) to corroborate driving facts.
An officer faces two potential problems in a crash scene: justifying the arrest and compiling enough evidence to place the defendant behind the wheel. A crash scene is a suspicious place and the crash constitutes a breach of the peace, thereby supporting the warrantless arrests.
In general, stopping a car at a checkpoint is a seizure. A visible police presence where the traffic keeps moving until officers spot a violation is not a roadblock. The reasonableness of a seizure at a vehicle checkpoint depends upon a balancing of:
- The gravity of the public concerns served but the checkpoint;
- The degree to which the checkpoint effectively addresses those concerns;
- The severity of the intrusion upon individual liberty.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, roadblocks established to identify intoxicated drivers are not inherently unreasonable. In evaluating DWI roadblocks, courts must balance the public interest in the roadblock against the individual driver’s right to privacy in light of three factors:
- The state’s interest in preventing accidents caused by intoxicated drivers;
- The effectiveness of a DWI roadblock in preventing these accidents;
- The level of intrusion on an individual’s right to privacy that is caused by the roadblock.
Once a defendant has been arrested, officers may obtain valuable information vital to a later prosecution both through a search incident to arrest and in impounding the defendant’s vehicle. The defendant himself can be a good source of evidence, as can items found in the car.
Evidence on the Body
Blood and hair evidence can be used to police a defendant behind the shell or rebut a statement that he is a passenger. Check for seat belt bruises, air bag abrasions on the face, injuries ties to specific vehicle damage, brake impressions on the sue of shoes, knee injuries on the driver, and wrist injuries from grasping the steering wheel.
If a defendant’s tires are damaged from hitting the curb, officers should take pictures or film the damage with the in car camera. Look for windshield star cracks, fingerprints, blood splatter. Check the settings of the seat and rearview mirror. Do they indicate a small or large person was driving? Is it consistent with the defendant being the driver.
If the defendant was involved in a wreck and he later tries to claim mechanical problems caused it, having information from the inspection sticker may provide a lead on when the car was last inspected and who performed the inspection. This may help rebut any claim that the car was not in good working order at the time of the wreck.
Title of the Car
Sometimes a defendant will challenge the sufficiency of the state’s evidence that he was driving the car. Evidence of vehicle registration papers found in the car can help cut off this contention.
Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine Anagnostis dedicates his practice to people who are facing criminal charges, with a primary emphasis on DWI, Drug Offenses, Expunction & Nondisclosure Agreements, and Occupational Driver’s License Issues. Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine G. Anagnostis understands the law, procedures, and penalties pertaining to criminal law, and will aggressively fight to protect your rights. Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine Anagnostis provides the utmost personal dedication to each and every case, and truly cares about his clients. You may call 817-229-0319 to schedule a free consultation, or submit a sample case form. At the Law Office of Constantine G. Anagnostis, we look forward to helping you.