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Reflecting on a Recent DUI Trial in Seattle District Court

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Apr 01, 2015 | 0 Comments

Let me begin by saying that as a courtroom litigator who is in frequent courts on a daily basis, I thoroughly enjoy taking a DUI case proceed to jury trial.  More often than not, my client- the person who stands accused and faces 6 of their "peers"- would desperately do anything not to be in that position.  After all, who wants to be sitting in the "hot seat"?

The stark reality is over the past 3 years, the landscape for DUI cases in Washington has dramatically changed.  During my first decade representing people accused of driving under the influence, most of my clients on first offenses were able to resolve their case via a substantial reduction.  The primary reason is that almost all of that period, the breath tests were being suppressed for a myriad of reasons.  Nowadays, the readings are coming in and with that- in addition to several prosecuting agencies taking a "harder" approach to their cases- the favorable plea offers are a thing of the past.  Quite often, the only offer is to plead guilty as charged with the mandatory minimums.

So, when I have a client who has no history, nor has any type of aggravating factors associated with his/her case (accident, children in car, poor attitude with arresting officer), my client really has no downside by forcing the government to "prove their case" in a jury trial.  After all, even if the person is found guilty by a jury the likely sentence will be exactly the same as if they had just plead guilty.  Some people cannot stand the scrutiny and pressure being the defendant in a trial and will elect to just accept their punishment.  Others, however, agree to "roll the dice" and take their chances at trial.

Earlier last month, I had a client decide to proceed to trial in a DUI case.  Fortunately, we had gotten the breath test results suppressed at an evidentiary hearing because proper foundational requirements for it's admission had not been met.  Obviously, this was of great benefit for the defense case.  The trial lasted for close to two days, and both my client and his girlfriend (who was in the car at the time) testified.  Having a defendant testify in a criminal case is always a difficult decision to make.  While the accused has a constitutional right to remain silent (and his/her silence cannot be used against them), what person does not want to hear both sides of the story before making a decision?  But more often that not, a defendant's testimony (and then cross-examination by the prosecutor) will be of more detriment than benefit.

In this particular case, both my client and his girlfriend came across as very credible.  Their testimony provided a different account of the sequence of events in contrast to the arresting officer's testimony.  At the end of the trial and roughly a 45 minute deliberation by the jury, they came back with a finding of not guilty.  My client, an exemplary young man with this isolated arrest that had haunted, shamed and terrified him for several months, was overwhelmed with joy.  In the end, I could not have been happier for my client and the final outcome of his case. 

Some attorneys tell their clients that they just need to plead guilty because they have no chance at trial.  And in some cases, that might be true.  But when a person does not have much risk by going to trial, they need to have a skilled DUI lawyer who is not afraid to go to battle.  While certainly the odds are always stacked against us, the burden is on the government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  And in this case, the government was unable to meet their burden in the eyes of the jury.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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