Defending a “No Driving” DUI Case

  • September 2, 2017

    Under California Law, it is “unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” As you may already know, you can be charged with a DUI even when law enforcement never saw you drive. In fact, even evidence that your engine wasn’t on or that the vehicle was not in gear won’t be enough to exonerate you. But there are steps you and your Los Angeles DUI Lawyer can take to defend yourself in this situation.

    DUI in a Nutshell

    Typically, arrests for Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) occur after a law enforcement officer observes a driver committing some form of traffic violation that gives the officer the necessary probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. Those traffic violations can include:

    • Speeding
    • Running a stop sign
    • Reckless driving
    • Improper lane change
    • Running a red light

    In most circumstances, DUI arrests are made after the officer conducts the traffic stop and notices the driver exhibit signs of intoxication. But the operative word here is “driving.” Under California law, a law enforcement officer need only see a vehicle make a “slight movement” to conclude that a driver was “driving” as it pertains to DUI law. But without evidence of driving, no amount of intoxication will lead to an arrest or conviction for DUI. Not all DUI situationss are witnessed by a law enforcement officer, including single vehicle accidents and breakdowns.

    So if my car was parked am I off the hook?

    Unfortunately, no. While not actually driving is certainly a defense to a DUI charge, courts will accept other evidence outside of an officer witnessing you drive. And the avenues available to the State to prove you were driving the vehicle at the time you were intoxicated are numerous.

    What are some of the ways the State can try to show I was driving?

    Proving DUI in a case where an officer did not witness driving is a two-pronged endeavor: that the vehicle in question was driven, and that the driver had to be you. To prove both elements, the State will use but direct and circumstantial evidence.

    law enforcement will look for any direct evidence that identifies you as the driver of the vehicle. This can include eye witnesses, traffic camera photographs or video of you driving at the time the offense occurred, or any admissions or statements you might have made implicating yourself. The State will also seek out direct physical evidence they can point to as evidence the car in question was driven. That can include testimony that the vehicle was wrecked or stopped in a place that would block traffic. Law enforcement officers may also testify if the keys were in your ignition. The State may also give testimony that the hood of the vehicle was still warm, indicating that it had been driven recently.

    The State still has other options even without direct physical evidence. Circumstantial evidence is enough to achieve a conviction in many DUI cases where there was no direct evidence of driving. The first tool the State uses with circumstantial evidence is through the process of elimination. In some circumstances there will be ample evidence that the vehicle had been driven. This can include when there were witnesses who saw the vehicle drive but couldn’t identify the driver, or when the vehicle was in a position such as a vehicle accident where it could only have gotten there if it was driven. In those cases, the State would highlight if you were the only person at the scene of the accident or within the proximity of the vehicle shortly after the witness saw the vehicle moving.

    What is the best defense in a DUI case where there is no evidence I was driving?

    Far too often drivers will be questioned by law enforcement in cases where there is no evidence of driving, only to make the State’s case for them by admitting to driving the vehicle. The strongest defense in these type of cases is to exercise your right to remain silent. Regardless of the circumstances of your case, it is highly recommended you seek out a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer for advice and counsel.

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