Evidence 101 – DMV records usage by the prosecution.

May 7, 2012

Here I would like to discuss evendentiary issue that Los Angeles Drunk Driving Attorneys often face at trials. A Los Angeles DUI prior or any other prior DUI is often proven by the prosecution using certified paper records from the previous conviction or convictions. Additionally, when relevant, DMV printouts with a driving record is used by the prosecution to show not only the previous convictions, but also the service of suspensions, i.e., that the person knew of the suspension. This is an aggravating factor and sometimes a separate charge in DUI prosecutions. However, a misdemeanor conviction or a DMV printout are hearsay and therefore inadmissible unless they fall within an exception to the hearsay rule. Experienced DUI lawyer in Los Angeles will attempt to limit introduction of such documents by using case law or relevant evidence statute. In the past Los Angeles DWI attorney or Los Angeles DUI attorney often lost on this evedentiary issue as the prosecution justly relied on People v. Tenner and its legacy, a California Supreme Court Case from 1993 permitted introduction of prison commitment record to satisfy prison prior enhancement. The introduction of such record fell under an exception to hearsay as an official duty regularly performed under California Evidence Code Section 664. Similarly, a DUI prior conviction or DMV records can be introduced using the same exception under the Evidence Code Section 664 as an “official duty regularly performed”.

Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States readdressed similar issue in Melendez-Diaz (557 US 305) and Bullcomming v. New Mexico (131 S Ct. 2705) interpreting Crawford (541 US 36). The Supreme Court focus is on whether the documents introduced are being testimonial in nature. If the documents are testimonial, then they would violate the confrontational clause of the U.S. Constitution and can not be introduced in evidence. These recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court permitted the defense to make arguments that evidence court section 664 is insufficient basis to permit introduction of documentary evidence in a criminal trial without relying on live testimony. DUI Attorneys in Los Angeles have new ammunition to rigorously defend the accused.

Eventhough the California Courts did not address this issue yet, a sister jurisdiction, ruled that ADMISSION OF CERTIFIED DOCUMENTS FROM STATE AGENCIES MAY VIOLATE CONFRONTATION clause. When prosecutors offer certified documents from the DMV or other government agencies to prove such things as that the defendant’s driver’s license was revoked or suspended, they will have to argue that logic of Washington Supreme court is inapplicable. Recently, Washington Supreme Court opined that a certified document from the official custodian of records showing that the defendant’s driver’s license had been revoked or suspended is testimonial in nature and therefore violated hearsay rule as explained in Crawford and Melendez-Diaz (State v. Jasper; 2012 WL 862196; 2012 Wash. LEXIS 235, 271 P3d 876; 3/15/12; Wash. Supremes).

 

 

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