Court Rules on Evidentiary Issues in Case Involving Arizona DUI Car Chase

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case involving an Arizona high-speed chase that ended with the driver being arrested and charged with several serious offenses, including aggravated assault, criminal damage, unlawful flight, and aggravated driving under the influence. At trial, the defendant wanted to introduce evidence that an officer involved in the case had been sanctioned for violating a police policy prohibiting an officer from engaging in a chase after witnessing only a traffic offense. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence may have been relevant to the case, but the lower court’s failure to admit the evidence was a harmless error.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer pulled over the defendant for a traffic violation. The defendant initially pulled over, but then drove off. The officer hopped back in his car and followed. The officer called in back-up as he chased the defendant.

The defendant continued to drive above the speed limit, and eventually drove into a residential neighborhood. The officer who initiated the traffic stop parked his car at the subdivision’s exit, to prevent the defendant from leaving. The defendant crashed into the officer’s car, got out of the car, and ran. He was later apprehended.

Before trial, the state filed a motion in limine to exclude certain evidence from trial. Specifically, the state wanted to prevent the jury from hearing that the officer who initiated the traffic stop had previously been disciplined for engaging in a vehicle pursuit. Apparently, the officer tried to pursue a car that did not stop after committing a minor traffic infraction, which was prohibited.

The court initially determined that the specific facts of the disciplinary proceeding were not admissible, but that the defendant could use any prior inconsistent statements made by the officer to impeach his testimony. However, on the state’s motion, the court revisited that ruling, and ended up disallowing any mention of the officer’s write-up.

The jury convicted the defendant, who appealed the court’s ruling on the state’s pre-trial motion.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision, and the defendant’s conviction. In doing so, however, the court warned that, generally, lower courts should “admit evidence of motive or bias as to central witnesses absent weighty concerns about prejudice.” However, the court also determined that, in this case, any error the court made was harmless.

In coming to this conclusion, the court noted that there were other witnesses other than the police officer. These witnesses largely corroborated the officer’s testimony, making the officer’s credibility less important than if he were the only witness. Thus, while the court held that the lower court would have been better to admit the evidence, its failure to do so did not deprive the defendant of his rights.

Have You Been Arrested For an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested or an Arizona DUI offense, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with decades of hands-on experience tackling even the most difficult DUI cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499 today.

Contact Information