Court Rejects Motion to Suppress Identification in Recent Arizona DUI Accident Case

Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI accident case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress an identification made by witnesses to the accident. Ultimately, the court determined that the witnesses’ identification was not unduly suggestive, and even if it was, the defendant could not show that he was prejudiced as a result of the identification. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a car crashed into a tree right outside of a school. Two school employees were notified of the crash, and walked outside to see the defendant inside the car in the driver’s seat. The witnesses saw the defendant try to drive away, but when he couldn’t’ get his car to move, he exited the vehicle. The witnesses told the defendant to stay on the scene, but he walked away towards a nearby convenience store.

One of the witnesses left briefly to get his car keys. He located the defendant a short time later, and called 911. The witness told police that the driver of the car had on jeans and a dark T-shirt. Not long after the 911 call, an officer stopped the defendant because he matched the description. The officer noted that the defendant appeared to be intoxicated. As the officer was waiting for the witness to come to make an identification, the defendant admitted to being the driver. When the witness showed up, he identified the defendant as the driver, and the officer arrested the defendant. Another witness provided police with photographs and a video of the defendant leaving the scene of the accident.

After he was convicted, the defendant appealed, arguing that the witness’s identification was admitted in error. The defendant argued that the identification was suggestive and unreliable. Because the defendant did not raise this issue at trial, the court reviewed the claim under the “fundamental error” standard, which requires the defendant to establish an error and then show that he suffered prejudice as a result.

The court concluded that the defendant did not meet his burden. First, the court found that the lower court did not err in admitting the identification. The court noted that the witness had ample opportunity to observe the defendant at the scene, and that it was reasonable to assume the witness was paying close attention, because a tree had fallen on the defendant’s car. The court acknowledged that the description given to police was somewhat vague, but noted that “even if these descriptions are vague, a lack of evidence on one factor does not render an identification unreliable.” The court also relied on the fact that the witness was certain in his identification, which was made less than an hour after the accident.

The court then held that, even if there was an error in admitting the identification, the defendant did not suffer any prejudice from its admission. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI Accident?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI accident, contact Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is an experienced criminal defense attorney, dedicated to providing his clients with the vigorous defense they deserve. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you face, call 480-413-1499 today. You can also reach out through our online form.

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