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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in Drunk Driving Cases

After a drunk driving arrest in the East Bay, drivers may think they have no chance to fight the charges and end up pleading guilty. However, it is not the arrest that leads to a conviction. You have the right to have your case heard before a jury of your peers. Defendants also have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. 

In a California criminal case, the county prosecutor must prove each and every element of the offense, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This gives a defendant the opportunity to create a question in the minds of jurors about whether there is any doubt about even one element of the crime. Reasonable doubt can mean the difference between a criminal record and a not guilty verdict. 

Before you accept a plea deal for a California DUI charge, talk to an experienced DUI defense lawyer about your options. Contact Gorelick Law Offices in the East Bay for a free consultation to talk about your DUI case. 

Burden of Proof in a Drunk Driving Case

The legal burden of proof in a criminal case is the level that the prosecution has to convince the jury to get a conviction. In criminal drunk driving, the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Beyond a reasonable doubt means that any reasonable doubt could be enough to find the element is not met. 

In contrast, civil cases generally have a “preponderance of the evidence,” burden. A preponderance of the evidence only requires showing greater than a 50% chance that the element is met. This is a much lower burden of proof. 

For example, if a driver was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and hit an unattended vehicle, they may be charged with a criminal DUI and the owner of the vehicle may file a civil lawsuit for damages. The defendant could be found not guilty of drunk driving if there was reasonable doubt. The driver could also be found civilly negligent for a driving drunk accident if a jury found it more likely than not that the driver was impaired. 

DUI Elements of the Offense 

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152

  • (a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.
  • (b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.

Elements of Vehicle Code 23152(a)

For a criminal conviction under California Vehicle Code 23152(a), the state has to prove the following elements, beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle; AND
  2. When he or she drove, the defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, or a drug, or a combination of alcoholic beverage and drug. 

“Drove” means volitional movement of a vehicle, no matter how slight.

“Under the influence” means that as a result of drinking alcohol or taking a drug, the driver's mental or physical abilities are so impaired that they are no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.

If a juror has any reasonable doubt that the defendant was not driving the vehicle or was not under the influence, then the defendant should be found not guilty. 

Elements of Vehicle Code 23152(b)

For a conviction under California Vehicle 23152(b), the state has to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle; AND 
  2. When he or she drove, the defendant's blood alcohol level was 0.08 percent or more by weight.

“Drove” means volitional movement of a vehicle, no matter how slight.

To show the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC), the police use a chemical test. Chemical testing includes a breath testing machine after arrest, or taking a blood sample for testing. There is a rebuttable presumption that the driver has a BAC of 0.08% or more, by weight at the time of driving if the person had a BAC of 0.08% or more at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after driving. 

What Evidence Is Used to Prove a Case?

To try and prove their case, the prosecutor uses evidence to show they have met the burden of proof. Evidence in a drunk driving case often relies on the testimony of the police officer involved. Evidence of impairment generally includes the results of a blood test or breath test. Other possible evidence may include the statements of the driver, dash cam footage, body cam footage, evidence of alcohol or drugs found in the car or on the driver, and witness statements. 

What Creates Reasonable Doubt?

Reasonable doubt can be created through legal defense strategies used by your California DUI defense attorney. Specifically for the two elements of the offense, your lawyer can question the evidence related to driving and impairment. For the impairment defense, there are several defense strategies, including: 

Much of a drunk driving case also relies on the testimony of the arresting officer. However, any one person's testimony, including a police officer's, is prone to inaccuracies. Memory fades over time, including the weeks or months that may pass between an arrest and a criminal trial. Your attorney may be able to question the arresting officer to point out inaccuracies, inconsistencies, prejudices, and errors made by the officer. This can develop doubt in the minds of jurors about the reliability of a police officer's statements. 

East Bay DUI Defense Strategies

You may have a better chance at beating the charges than you think. Your attorney only has to introduce any reasonable doubt for a jury to find you not guilty of drunk driving in the east bay. If you have any questions about what to do next after a DUI arrest in Alameda County or Contra Costa County, contact East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

East Bay DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of California drunk driving defense experience and understands the consequences of a criminal conviction. Representing individuals in Contra Costa and Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, judges, and the local prosecutors involved.

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