Elements the Government Must Prove
There are several different ways a person can be guilty of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the state of Georgia. In all cases, the state must prove the defendant was either driving or in physical control of a vehicle. Next, the state must prove the driver was either not safe to drive due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or inhalants, or that the driver had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more at the time of driving. In the alternative, the presence of certain illegal substances, if found in the driver's blood, is sufficient to secure a DUI conviction.
How the Government Attempts to Prove its Case
In a criminal trial, the government must prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Cases may be tried to a jury or a judge. If tried to a jury, all the jurors must agree that a person is guilty before they can be convicted. This is commonly referred to as a “unanimous jury verdict.” The state has to bring in evidence through testimony, in the presence of the accused, (referred to as “the defendant”). The defendant has the right, through counsel, to confront and cross-examine the state's witnesses.
The defendant also has the right to bring in witnesses to testify on their behalf. Additionally, the defendant has the right to testify or remain silent. If the defendant chooses to remain silent, neither the prosecutor nor the judge can comment on this choice to the jury, suggesting the accused's silence should somehow be considered evidence of guilt.
The jury considers the evidence presented before rendering a verdict. The evidence presented comes mostly in the form of testimony. However, in some DUI cases, the jury also considers video evidence, as well as scientific test results.
Lay Witness Testimony
First, in a DUI case, the government may provide lay witness testimony. A witness may testify they saw the defendant drink three shots at the bar. They may testify they saw the defendant get into their car and drive away. Alternatively, they may testify they were with the defendant after the defendant got out of the car, and only after the accident did the defendant consume any alcohol. They may testify they purchased a six pack of beer and went to bed, and the next morning, only four beers remained.
Lay witnesses can testify to facts they have observed. In certain cases, they can testify to things they have heard. Lay witnesses are not qualified, however, to offer expert opinions.
Police, like lay witnesses, will testify about what they have observed. For example, police may describe driving conduct they personally saw. They may describe for the jury the fact they saw the defendant sitting in the driver's seat, or heard the telltale “ding, ding, ding” indicating the keys were in the ignition when the police opened the driver's side door to investigate a call of a person sleeping inside a vehicle. They will describe their observations of the driver's conduct while performing field sobriety tests.
Additionally, in some cases, police officers testify about what they heard someone else, typically the defendant, say. Police officers may have additional information, such as the results of their radar gun's reading of the speed of a vehicle, or the fact there was a report of a DUI accident, which led them to the scene.
Police may also be used to introduce other types of evidence. For example, in many cases, there is a police squad video or police body camera. Depending on who is offering the evidence, either the prosecutor or the defense attorney will ask questions to lay a foundation for the introduction of the evidence. Then the evidence will be played for the jury. A video or audio may either support the police officer's testimony and police reports or refute it.
Social media is becoming a tool in police investigation more and more frequently. Any comments made by the accused, such as “I was so wasted last night,” or “My car's in the shop because I hit something last night,” or “My girlfriend says I can't drive her car anymore after what happened yesterday,” can be used by the government against a driver accused of a DUI as an admission of guilt. People under criminal investigation should refrain from posting any comments on social media. Even an innocent, “I can't believe I got a ticket” may be used against a person in court. It is best to say nothing about the situation.
When addressing the issue of driving less safe, or driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, an expert may testify about the relevant issues. For example, the government may use a drug recognition expert to testify that, based on their training and experience, they believe the defendant was under the influence of a particular substance. A chemist may be called in to discuss the blood results in a case involving controlled substances. A police officer may testify as to the results of a breath test measuring the amount of alcohol present in the blood.
Charged with a DUI?
In any DUI trial, vigorous cross-examination can be the best defense. Whether the police officer's reports are consistent with the squad video, whether the lay witness remembers the situation accurately, whether the science is reliable, all of these are areas of attack in a DUI defense. Do not leave your liberty to chance. If you are charged with a DUI, you need quality DUI representation. Our DUI lawyers focus exclusively on DUI cases. We offer free consultations 24 hours a day. Contact us to discuss your case now.