Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona DUI case, affirming the prosecution’s motion to preclude any evidence that led to the defendant’s stop. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court was proper to grant the prosecution’s motion, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a police officer responded to a call for possible vehicle arson. Upon arrival, the officer noticed that a silver car was driving by very slowly. People nearby told the officers that the occupants of the car were involved in the arson. However, because the officer was alone, he could not leave the scene to follow the silver car, and called in for backup. However, before backup could arrive, the owners of the burning vehicle chased the silver car. Eventually, backup officers stopped both cars.
The defendant was driving the silver car. As officers approached, they noticed that his eyes were red and watery, and his speech was slurred. They also noticed a smell of alcohol, and that the defendant seemed to be unsteady on his feet. There was an open can of beer, as well as several “Molotov cocktails.” The passenger of the car had a loaded gun.
The defendant was not charged with arson; however, he was charged with driving under the influence. In a pre-trial motion, the prosecution sought preclusion of any evidence leading up to the stop of the defendant’s vehicle. The prosecution claimed that the evidence was prejudicial to both sides and would confuse the jury. The defendant disagreed, arguing that the evidence was necessary for him to present a complete defense. He argued that the fumes from the gasoline could have been responsible for his red, watery eyes and confusion. He also claimed that the passenger had pointed the gun at him, which was responsible for his demeanor.
The trial court granted the prosecution’s motion in large part, only allowing the fact that there was an open container of gasoline in the car. However, during the prosecution’s opening statement, the prosecutor implied that the defendant was stopped for speeding and erratic driving. In response, the defendant renewed his objection, claiming that the prosecution’s opening statement created a false impression to the jury. The court agreed, and allowed the defendant to question the police officers regarding the nature of the stop, and that other things were going on at the time of the stop.
The defendant was convicted of driving under the influence, and then appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court explained that, in large part, the trial court reversed its ruling and allowed much of the evidence leading up to the stop. The court held that the court’s decision to preclude any evidence was harmless, as the defendant could argue his defense.
To be sure, this is an unusual drunk driving case. However, it shows the importance of litigating all pretrial motions to create a favorable landscape as possible. In most cases, this will involve a defendant seeking suppression of certain evidence; however, in some cases, a defendant may want certain evidence to come in to give the jury a complete picture of what happened.
Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI offense?
If you are facing an Arizona drunk driving offense, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak has been effectively representing clients in all types of DUI cases for decades, and knows what it takes to defend against a drunk driving charge successfully. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499 today.