The burden of proof in DUI cases
You may be familiar with the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” from crime dramas on television, or in the movies.
The burden of proof in legal cases, from the highest levels of proof required, to the lowest, are as follows:
- Beyond a reasonable doubt
- Clear and convincing evidence
- Preponderance of the evidence
- Probable cause
- Reasonable suspicion
- No evidence
With a DUI case, there are actually two different standards of proof involved, based upon what the proceedings are.
The burden of proof in DUI cases at the DMV
At the DMV, the hearing officer decides the case based upon the evidence presented in the documents. In California, it’s rare for the DMV to call witnesses, although either side has the right to do so.
The DMV action involved in your license is civil in nature, so it uses the civil “preponderance of the evidence” standard. That is, as long as there is 51% proof on all the issues required at a hearing, the DMV wins the hearing.
Keep in mind that the issues that the DMV still has to have proof on, and prove via paperwork or testimony, are:
- Can it be proven that the person was driving a motor vehicle?
- Was the person above a .08% alcohol level at the time of driving (not only at the time of the later test);
- Did the police have valid probable cause to arrest for DUI?
- Was the person placed under valid arrest?
- And, for cases involving a refusal or DUI probation, or a prior, the refusal, DUI probation, or prior has to be validly proven separately.
The burden of proof in DUI cases in court.
In court, the prosecutor has a different standard. As a criminal proceeding, the prosecutor has to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that each and every element of the case is proven to that standard.
In many cases, it may be difficult to prove one or more elements of the case. They may not be able to show or prove driving in accident DUI cases, or prove the timing of intoxication or time of driving. Under California law, a blood or breath test has to be taken within three hours of driving to be used in a case, at the Orange County DMV hearing, or in Orange County DUI court proceedings. When the police don’t know the exact time of driving, or are missing other elements of the crime, that might be enough reasonable doubt to get a not guilty in a DUI case.