Published on:

Pennsylvania Court Discusses the Prosecution’s Burden in a DUI Case

In Pennsylvania, if the Commonwealth charges a person with a DUI offense, it must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. As such, if the Commonwealth can establish the intoxication of a DUI defendant but not that he or she actually operated a vehicle while impaired, the defendant should be found not guilty, as demonstrated in a recent ruling in which the court vacated the defendant’s conviction. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is in your best interest to speak to a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer to discuss what defenses are available.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that a police officer performed a traffic stop at 3:30 in the morning when he noticed the defendant’s motorcycle behind a large tree. The defendant briefly spoke to the driver that the officer stopped, then went back behind the tree. The officer drove away but was then dispatched back to the same location following a report of an accident. When he arrived, he saw the defendant lying next to his motorcycle and tire marks on the grass but not the road.

Allegedly, the officer smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath and asked him to submit to field sobriety testing. The defendant failed the first test and stated he could not perform the remaining tests due to a knee injury. The officer arrested the defendant for DUI, and a breath test revealed his BAC to be 0.11%. The trial court convicted the defendant, and he appealed, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he had operated a vehicle while intoxicated.

The Prosecution’s Burden in a DUI Case

On appeal, the court explained that no man should be deprived of his rights under the law unless the evidence is adequate to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every fact needed to constitute the charged offense. The court elaborated that the reasonable doubt standard plays a critical role in the scheme of American criminal procedure.

In other words, it is the main instrument for reducing the risk of convictions that rest on factual errors. As such, it is a fundamental principle of criminal law that when the evidence offered in support of a guilty verdict is so unreliable or contradictory that it renders the verdict pure conjecture, the fact finder is not allowed to return a guilty verdict.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the Commonwealth’s case was rife with speculation regarding when the defendant drove his motorcycle. The court explained that the timeline of events was critical to establishing the defendant’s guilt, and as the Commonwealth could not establish that the defendant was intoxicated when he drove his motorcycle, it could not sustain his conviction. Thus, it vacated the defendant’s guilty verdict.

Meet with an Experienced Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

Merely proving one element of a DUI offense is not sufficient to obtain a conviction, and if the prosecution cannot meet its burden of proof, the jury should issue a not guilty verdict. If you are accused of a DUI crime, it is prudent to meet with an attorney regarding your rights. Zachary B. Cooper is an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer with the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek a favorable result, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Cooper through the online form or at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a meeting.