Being convicted of a DUI is a serious matter. Not only are the direct consequences of a conviction severe (i.e., driver's license suspension, fines and fees, and possible jail time), but collateral consequences can be just as damaging. Your career could suffer and your reputation could be damaged, among other things. Imagine, worse, that you were convicted wrongfully, that indeed you are innocent of the charge(s) and yet are convicted.
This happens: innocent people are convicted. In fact, in June, we wrote a blog about hundreds of Colorado DUI cases under suspicion due to faulty evidence. You may also recall that Washington state is still recovering from revelations a year ago that Washington state police fraudulently handled breath tests, causing the then-Director of the Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Barry Logan, to resign.
If you are charged with a DUI and know or believe yourself to be innocent, you need to know your rights, especially with regard to due process. You can't afford to sit around and think that it'll all come together to your advantage in the end because it won't. Know your rights, and then act on them before your reputation is damaged.
DUI Suspects Rights & State's Responsibilities
You have rights when charged with a crime, regardless of what that crime is. Likewise, the government has certain responsibilities it owes you. Rights and responsibilities are directly related to each other.
- Counsel. You have the right to counsel at anytime of the process, whether it's directly after you were read your rights, during interrogation, at trial or during the sentencing period. The government has the responsibility to ensure you are represented if you are indigent.
- Trial. You have the right to a public and speedy trial by jury. The government has the responsibility to ensure a fair trial. The prosecutor also has the responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charge(s).
- Witness. You have the right to (1) not witness against yourself; (2) call witnesses on your behalf; and (3) confront witnesses who testify against you. The government is responsible to uphold your right to remain silent and that your silence is not held against you.
- Appeal. If you are convicted of a DUI, you have the right to appeal the conviction, especially if the DUI conviction was wrongful. The government is responsible to uphold your due process and right to appeal.
Errors that Lead to Wrongful Convictions
Intentional or unintentional, there are any number of errors that can lead to wrongful convictions. When you appeal a conviction, it is often based on an error at trial. These errors could include:
- Fundamental error, an error that goes to the heart of the case;
- Harmful error, an error that probably impacted the trial to the defendant's detriment;
- Harmless error, an error that likely had no material impact;
- Invited error, an error made by the party at trial and then appealed by the same party based on that error; or
- Reversible error, an error that causes the appellate court to overturn the trial court's verdict.
A wrongful conviction could be the result of a fundamental error, harmful error or reversible error. For instance, if a mistake was made with regard to forensic evidence (e.g., breath test), then the error made goes to the heart of the case, was harmful to the outcome of the case, and may be reason to overturn the trial court's verdict unless other evidence was presented.
Given last year's revelation that forensic evidence was mishandled by the state, coupled with the statistic that more than forty percent of wrongful convictions are due to the misapplication of forensic evidence, if you believe you were wrongfully convicted of DUI, you must appeal: your career, education, reputation, you name it, could be dependent on it.