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Corpus Delicti – what is it?

Posted on July 11, 2013 in DUI Arrest

In every DUI case, the first thing that the State must prove before they even start presenting any evidence about blood, breath, or urine results is driving or actual physical control of a motor vehicle. The determination as to whether a person is driving is obvious, and is usually demonstrated by a police officer testifying that they saw the Defendant drivea vehicle. Proving actual physical control of a vehicle is somewhat more complicated, and there are numerous different factors that a court takes into account to determine whether a person whom, although was not driving the vehicle at the time of their impairment, was in actual physical control of the vehicle. (For further information on actual physicalcontrol see our previous blogs).

Common sense would dictate that if the actual physical control factors are not met, and there are no witnesses to the Defendant driving, then the State should not be able to go forward on DUI charges. However, in reality, the State does continue to go forward on those cases in an effort to get a DUI conviction. The State attempts to use as a substitute foreye-witness testimony a Defendant’s admissions to having driven. Many times, these scenarios arise in cases of single car accidents, where the Defendant is found sitting outside of the vehicle on the side of a road, where no one witnessed the accident. A witness may come upon an accident, and call the police and inform them there was an accident atsome point, and to come out. Upon arrival, the officers notice what they believe to be signs and symptoms of impairment, and a DUI investigation and arrest follows.

This is where of the doctrine of Corpus Delecti, or “body of the crime,” enters the legal landscape. This rule mandates that admissions of driving, without any corroborating evidence, are insufficient to sustain a DUI conviction. Courts have recognized that people say things that aren’t true, including confessing to a crime thatthey did not commit, for a multitude of reasons so a criminal conviction based solely off of those statements is impermissible. Sometimes people tell a tale to protect a friend, significant other, or family member from getting in trouble with the law. Sometimes suspects “confess” simply to appease officers who are overly zealous and accusatory.And sometimes, people claim they did something illegal for psychological reasons that I don’t dare comment on, because I don’t understand them.

As a result of this important doctrine, courts in Arizona require additional facts and evidence of the crime of DUI before an admission by a Defendant can be used against them in Court. The Corpus Delecti doctrine does not apply to every DUI case. A statutory provision, A.R.S. § 28-1388 (G), clearly states that if there is an accidentthat resulted in the death or injury of any person, then the statements of a suspect regarding admissions to driving can enter into court proceedings without any further proof of driving.

Although common sense dictates that unless driving is actually seen by a witness, a criminal charge for a crime that involves driving under the influence should not stand. However, as a DUI practitioner, we are seeing more and more cases where police are unfairly accusing people who are in their own homes or changing a tire by the side of the road ofbeing impaired while driving. These types of charges should be vigorously opposed by competent DUI attorneys.

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