A client of ours recently found a very favorable outcome after a year of patient litigation, and found closure just after the commencement of trial.
Our client was facing a difficult DUI charge in King County, stemming from his first arrest. Anyone who believes that a first offense is only going to result in a "slap on the wrist" clearly hasn't found themselves in the position of being charged with a DUI in King county. If the breath test exceeds a certain threshold, or if an accident is involved, your prior history means very little to the prosecutors. They will very rarely offer a reduction, and unless you decide to plead guilty to the DUI, you are often best served by heading to trial.
Our client was involved in a single car accident and was interviewed soon afterward by the arresting trooper. The trooper gathered evidence on scene, including the names and contact information for a handful of witnesses who observed the accident and could later testify at trial.
We fought pretrial motions on many different issues, and enlisted the assistance of two expert witnesses. One was a doctor, prepared to testify about the physical tests our client was subjected to on the night of his arrest. The other was a biochemist, who was prepared to testify about the shortcomings and problems of the infrared spectroscopy instrument used by Washington State (the BAC Datamaster). This second witness was intended to cast doubt on the breath test result, which was well over the legal limit.
The prosecutors failed to list the key eyewitnesses for trial, who could later assist them in proving the case. This becomes critical because of the corpus delicti rule.
In Washington, the admission of a defendant to a criminal act can be brought into evidence only when there is evidence which independently corroborates, or confirms, a defendant's incriminating statement. This is known as the corpus delicti rule. Our Washington courts have a higher standard than in other states. In Washington, if the independent evidence presented by the prosecution would support both a hypothesis of guilt and a hypothesis of innocence, it cannot be used to corroborate the defendant's statement. In other words, unless independent evidence supported our client's admission that he was driving, the admission would not come in at trial.
Here, the State needed to prove that our client was driving the vehicle. He was outside of the vehicle at the time he was approached by the arresting trooper, and the other witnesses identified him as the driver. However, without those witnesses, the State had to tie our client to the vehicle and the act of driving through other means. The witnesses' physical gestures (of pointing to our client) and the verbal statements could not be admitted without the presence of the witnesses in court, as those statements and gestures were hearsay.
It was only on the eve of trial that their dilemma was finally apparent to the State, who realized that their independent evidence would likely fall short of what was required for an admissible confession. We were prepared to challenge the admissibility of our client's statements, and the State was forced to concede that there would be some hurdles in their efforts to introduce the statements.
While it was definitely conceivable that the State could try to put enough evidence before the court to get past the corpus hurdle, it was a risk for them. If they failed to convince the judge, the case could be dismissed entirely. However, if they prevailed, there were two expert witnesses lined up to fight the case, and the corpus issue already created one excellent challenge for an appeal.
With the pressures of these issues on the line, the State decided to re-open negotiations rather than try for a last minute stall to get the case into a better posture. With pressure from our end, the resulting plea bargain was far better than we had hoped for from the beginning of the case. Our client left the court happy, with the weight of the past 12 months of anxiety and stress slipping from his shoulders.
If you find yourself facing a difficult DUI charge in King County or another court in western Washington, please contact us today to discuss your options. We would be happy to assist you.