Burden of Proof
Posted on Jul 28, 2009 12:00am PDT
Many people don't understand the difference between pleas of guilty, not guilty and no contest, and the misunderstandings are compounded when the burden of proof is considered in the same factual predicament. When one enters a plea of not guilty, he is saying either that he is not guilty of the crime (there is insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction) or that he is innocent. When one enters a plea of guilty, he is admitting to have committed the crime. When one enters a plea of no contest, he is declaring that he does not admit that he is guilty of the crime as alleged, but agrees that there is sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
I recently represented a client that was accused of driving while intoxicated and careless driving. The evidence at trial was that my client's vehicle was involved in an apparent one-vehicle wreck, my client had the keys to his vehicle in his pocket when the police arrived, and my client told the police that he was in the back seat behind the driver when the crash occured and that the driver of his vehicle fled the scene. The officer checked the vehicle and saw a lot of stuff behind the drivers seat. Then, the officer alleged, my client told him that he meant to say he was behind the passenger's seat.
There was no doubt my client was intoxicated upon the arrival of the police. However, there was no testimony as to how the accident happened --be it driver error, vehicle malfunction, other traffic, etc. Nor was there any testimony as to when the driving took place --all the officer could say was that it happened some time prior to his arrival. Under those facts, you'd think the state can't make their case as it can't meet its burden of proof: it could not prove that my client was driving, or that he was drunk when he was driving. Remember, the fact finder had to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of driving while intoxicated and careless driving. Although the judge in the case was a respected jurist, I believe he didn't fully understand the burden of proof issues that the case presented. Perhaps the fact finder could find that more likely than not my client was driving the vehicle that early morning becuase it ws his vehicle and he had the keys upon the police arrival. But, there's no way the State proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I hope this case goes up on appeal...