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Can You Be Charged With DUI Without Evidence?

In the United States, a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) typically requires evidence to support it. This evidence can include the results of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tests, observations by law enforcement officers, and other relevant factors such as the driver’s behavior and appearance.
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What is a DUI?

According to Wikipedia, operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs, including both recreational and prescription substances, to the extent that the driver is unable to safely control the vehicle, constitutes the offense of driving under the influence (DUI) [1].

The criminal offense may not involve actual driving of the vehicle, but rather may broadly include being physically "in control" of a car while intoxicated, even if the person charged is not in the act of driving.

For instance, in most U.S. states, individuals discovered in the driver's seat of a vehicle, intoxicated, and holding the keys, even if the vehicle is parked, can be charged with DUI because they are deemed to be in control of the vehicle.

Also Read: Field Sobriety Test: Must You Do It?

DUI vs DWI

According to The Zebra, the definitions of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Impaired) can vary significantly from state to state [2]. Unlike federal laws, which do not distinguish between the two, there is no uniform nationwide definition for either offense. States often have distinct definitions and penalties for DUI and DWI, which can refer to similar but distinct driving behaviors.

DUI typically refers to driving with alcohol in one's bloodstream. While the federal legal limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08%, some states may pursue a DUI charge at lower BAC levels, such as 0.01%, particularly for drivers under a certain age. In some states, law enforcement can issue a DUI without conducting a breathalyzer test. Instead, a DUI may be based on observed erratic driving, suspicion of alcohol influence, or performance on a field sobriety test.

Some states define a DWI as Driving While Intoxicated — in those instances, there is no difference between a DUI and DWI charge. In those states that recognize them as separate charges, DWI generally refers to driving while impaired by drugs — either prescribed or recreational.

Also Read: What is an Ignition Interlock Device?

What Evidence is Needed to Convict a DUI?

According to the LACL, to establish a defendant's guilt in a driving under the influence (DUI) case, a prosecutor must prove specific criminal elements beyond a reasonable doubt [3]. If the evidence is insufficient or fails to establish each element, the case may not proceed.

Elements of a DUI
In order to prove that a defendant is guilty of driving under the influence, the prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant drove a vehicle and that he or she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of driving or had a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher at the time of driving.

Establishing the Act of Driving
While an arresting officer may directly witness the defendant driving, in some cases, the officer may not have seen the defendant drive, such as in DUI collisions. In such instances, the prosecution may rely on witness statements, the defendant's admission, or circumstantial evidence to prove driving.

In cases lacking witnesses or admissions, the prosecution may use circumstantial evidence like the defendant's position in the vehicle or the absence of other potential drivers to establish driving.

It's crucial to note that in some jurisdictions, including California, mere physical control of a vehicle is insufficient to prove driving. Courts often require evidence of volitional movement of the vehicle, meaning defendants who were not actively driving (e.g., sleeping or sitting) may have a strong defense.

Proving Impairment at the Time of Driving
To establish that the defendant was under the influence at the time of driving or had a BAC of 0.08% or higher (as per California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b)), the prosecution typically relies on post-driving breath or blood test results. These tests must be conducted after observing the defendant to ensure they do not consume alcohol or take actions that could affect BAC.

In cases where the defendant refused testing, the prosecution must prove impairment through other means, such as driving conduct, performance on field sobriety tests, or other relevant factors.

Expert testimony, including retrograde extrapolation, may be used to explain how post-driving test results accurately reflect the defendant's BAC at the time of driving. The defense can also present expert witnesses to challenge these results and argue for a lower BAC at the time of driving.

It's important to understand that the specific elements and procedures may vary by jurisdiction, so it's advisable to consult a legal professional familiar with the laws in your area.

Also Read: Beat the DUI: How to Get Charge Reduced to Reckless Driving?

DUI Statistics and Trends: 2023 Annual Report

The incidence of fatal crashes involving drunk driving increased in 2021, resulting in the deaths of 13,384 individuals. These crashes accounted for approximately 31% of all fatal accidents that year.

Montana had the highest proportion of traffic fatalities involving drunk drivers in 2020, with about 45% of deaths attributed to drunk driving, the highest rate among all states.

Between 2020 and 2021, Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Idaho saw the most significant increases in the number of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Nationwide, DUIs account for approximately one in every ten arrests. However, in Pennsylvania, drunk or intoxicated driving offenses made up about 25% of all arrests in 2021.

In 2022, approximately 20% of drivers admitted to driving drunk at least once, with 10% reporting that they did so frequently.

According to SafeHome.org [4.]

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References:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_under_the_influence
2. https://www.thezebra.com/auto-insurance/tickets-violations/dui-vs-dwi/
3. https://www.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/what-does-the-prosecutor-have-to-prove-in-a-dui-case.html
4. https://www.safehome.org/resources/dui-statistics/