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To prove DUI, they must prove…driving

THERE are two elements to proving Driving Under the Influence—you were driving and that you were driving over the legal limit in your state.

For example, the police arrive at a scene of a one car accident. The car is left at a telephone pole with damages in the front. There are several people standing around, but nobody is behind the wheel. Suppose the officer walked up to one person and asked if he was the driver of the car (who later was arrested for DUI). If that person admits to driving the car, they have admitted to one of the necessary elements of the crime. Case closed? No.

What is the “Corpus Delicti" rule?

This is the legal principle that the prosecution cannot prove that a crime has been committed from the defendant’s own confession alone, but that the prosecution must prove that corroborating evidence exists and that the actual crime that the defendant confessed to occurred. For each crime, there are elements to that crime. Those elements form the corpus delicti or “body" of the crime.

Before the prosecution can introduce a defendant’s statement into evidence, they must prove each element of the “body" of the crime first. Too often, prosecutors will review a police report that the defendant admitted certain aspects of the crime and forget about this corpus rule.

In California, the case of People v. Moreno (1987) 188 CA3d 1179 dealt with this same scenario. Before the admission of driving (the “cop-out"), can be admitted into evidence, the D.A. needed to put on evidence that the other bystanders were excluded as the driver of the car. In fact, this rule does not just apply to DUI, it is relevant in every criminal charge.

Since admissions or confessions generally tend to be a reliable form of evidence, the prosecution’s burden of presenting independent evidence of each element of the offense is a minimal one. They are not required to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but a very low standard of prima facie showing in order to be able to introduce out-of-court admissions and confessions.

This rule is designed to prevent people from being convicted where no crime was actually committed, and false confessions can be the product of things other than overbearing, neglectful or dishonest police officers. Additionally, a defendant simply has a mental or emotional condition that prompts him/her to confess to something he/she did not do.

In fact, in all criminal trials, the criminal defense attorney must make sure that the court instructs the jury that the corpus must be proved independent of the defendant’s statement. (CA. CALJIC 2.72). Another must for criminal defense attorney is to have the instruction on evaluating a statement made by the defendant including the cautionary instruction for oral statements made by the defendant unless written or recorded (CA. CALCRIM 358 with CALCRIM 359).

The police did not read me my Miranda rights before I made a confession?

Will your DUI case be dismissed? Your case will not be dismissed but upon filing the proper motion and having a hearing on the issue, the statements may be excluded. During the investigative stage, prior to arrest, the officer has no obligation to advise one of such rights as to remain silent or to an attorney. The person does not have to answer any questions but the person usually does. By the time, the officer has conducted the field sobriety tests (FST’s), pre-FST questions, Pre-Alcohol Screening Devise test (on site alcohol test), the officer usually will have all the answers needed to arrest an individual for a DUI and Miranda is not required.

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