Recently our Court of Appeals, Division One (State v. Mecham, No. 69613-1, April 21, 2014) came down with an unfavorable ruling for folks facing a DUI charge in Washington State. Undoubtedly this ruling will be appealed to our State Supreme Court, but as of now one’s decision to refuse’ voluntary’ field sobriety testing can be used by prosecutors to claim that a person refused FST’s because he believed he was guilty of DUI.
In legal terms it is called, “consciousness of guilt”. Essentially what that means is that when it comes to the refusal of FST’s, a Prosecutor can argue to a jury that the reason a defendant declined to perform FST’s is because they had a “guilty conscious” or in other words, they knew they were DUI and that they were going to fail the tests.
Prior to this recent ruling, such an argument applied only to refusals of breath or blood tests. In short, if a person declined voluntary field sobriety tests the refusal of the tests could be admitted into evidence but it was not necessarily allowed to show a “consciousness of guilt”. The Prosecutor could bring up the refusal to perform FST’s but not infer or state that it was because the subject knew he was going to fail the tests. Now, however, a prosecutor can argue that a person didn’t take the ‘voluntary’ field sobriety tests because he knew he was guilty of DUI and/or that he would fail the tests.
Based on Division One’s ruling, it will be interesting to see if police officers will now be advising people that their refusal of voluntary field sobriety tests may (and can) be used against them in a criminal trial. Will folks be affirmatively put on notice of the impact of their decision to refuse to perform field sobriety tests? Will they affirmatively be required to be put on notice, similar to what is required pursuant to our implied consent laws and breath/ blood testing? It seems only logical that this should be required since prosecutors can now argue that the person refused these tests (despite them being voluntary) because they were drunk and they knew they would fail them. That said, only time will tell how all this ‘jockeying for position’ will play out on the scene of the stop, in the cop-shop and in courtrooms around the state; there really never is a dull moment in the field of criminal defense, that is for sure.
If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a DUI, immediately contact a Seattle DUI attorney. A DUI attorney is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle DUI lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce those penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their DUI charge. So it should go without saying that someone cited for DUI should hire a qualified Seattle DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Driving Under the Influence charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with DUI in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle DUI lawyer.