How Does a DUI Trial Look In Rhode Island?

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A DUI trial in Rhode Island is much like a regular criminal trial. It follows the same structure; however, it only pertains to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the prosecution must show that you 1) were driving, 2) on a public roadway, 3) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and 4) those drugs or alcohol impaired your ability to drive. In contrast, the defense has no specific burden and can choose what theory of defense would work best given the facts of the case. If the DUI is charged as a misdemeanor, it will be first heard in District Court with a trial in front of a judge with an appeal to the Superior Court for a jury trial. If the DUI is in Superior Court, there will likely be a jury trial.

Opening Statements in a DUI Trial in Rhode Island

Opening statements are an opportunity for the prosecute and defense lawyer to lay out how they believe the evidence will come out. It is a time for them to start explaining the issues they see in the case. The defense lawyer will likely start presenting their defenses at this point.

Direct Examination of the Police in a DUI Trial in Rhode Island

In nearly all DUI trials, the main witnesses the prosecution will call are the police officers who made observations and the arrest of the defendant. The police officers will be able to testify to their observations of you. The prosecutor will ask the police about the training they received in detecting a DUI. They will likely ask them about the process of a DUI arrest and the different stages the police went through. This will include their observations of you driving, if there were any. It will also include the stop of your motor vehicle. It will include their observations when they were speaking with you and what you said to them. It will include any admissions to drinking you may have made. Nearly all police officers note that the defendant had bloodshot, glossy and watery eyes with slurred speech. They nearly all notice the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the defendant. In addition, the police will testify to the Standard Field Sobriety tests, which can include the one leg stand and nine step walk and turn test.

In DUI cases where there was no accident, and the police pulled the defendant over, the observations begin before the car is stopped. For the police to stop a vehicle, they must have probable cause. So, the first portion of the prosecution’s direct examination pertains to the observations the police officer made, which caused the police officer to pull the complaining witness over. Usually, the police officer will testify to seeing the defendant “swerve in and out of traffic” or “they failed to turn on their headlights and was driving in a reckless fashion.” Depending on the judge, the officer may have to specify the reckless actions.

After they have established probable cause to effectuate the stop, the officer will go into the observations that led to the defendant being removed from the car. Usually, the police officer will testify to several things, such as “slurred speech,” “blood-shot watery eyes,” “erratic behavior,” and “the smell of alcohol emanating from the driver’s breath.” All of those things, taken as a whole and sometimes alone, are enough for the officer to remove you from the vehicle and ask that you partake in Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs).

Once the police officer has removed the driver from the vehicle, they will have asked that you partake in the Field Sobriety Tests. If you refuse to partake in the field sobriety tests, you still may be arrested for the suspicion of driving while under the influence. If you agree to partake in the FST, the officer will testify to instructing you and demonstrating how to do each test. They will then testify to their observations of you while you were conducting the FSTs. That testimony will more often than not sound like “the driver had to be instructed on how to do each test numerous times.” Or “the driver was erratic and refused to follow any of the instructions.” Additionally, the police officer can also go into how well you did on those tests, such as “the defendant scored a certain amount of points on the horizontal gaze nystagmus for failing to follow the tip of my pen with their eyes only. The defendant repeatedly turned their head to follow the pen despite my instructions stating not to do so.” Or, “the defendant failed to put their heel to their toe and walk in a straight line.”

After you have been arrested, any statements you made to the police and any observations they made of you while being processed can and will be used against you during the trial in the prosecution’s direct examination of the police.

Cross Examination in a DUI Trial in Rhode Island

Once the prosecution’s witness has testified, it is the defense attorney’s chance to punch holes in the officer’s story. During cross, the defense attorney will likely harp on what the officer did not observe. For instance, let’s say there is no mention of the client having an issue finding their driver’s license, then the defense attorney will point out that the defendant was able to get their driver’s license just fine when asked, which is something the police are looking for. However, should the cop lie, the defense attorney would highlight this by expressing all the training the cop has received in criminal investigations, particularly DUI, and point out it is absent from the police report. They will then infer that there is no way the officer simply forgot to put it in their report. An experienced DUI attorney will understand how the police are trained to conduct a DUI arrest from the NHTSA manual.

A defense attorney may be able to point out alternatives to explain certain observations of the defendant. For instance, a defense attorney could make a point that bloodshot and glossy eyes could be a symptom of somebody who has allergies rather than somebody who is impaired form alcohol.

There are many different defenses that can be used in a DUI trial. Some of them can include that the defendant was not actually driving. No Matter what the defense is, the defense attorney will use their cross examination at trial to fit the theme of their defense.

Closing Arguments in a DUI Trial in Rhode Island

Here, both sides will argue for their respective conclusions. The prosecution will argue that the defendant knowingly committed the crime of driving while under the influence. On the other hand, the defense will argue that the prosecution has not met its burden of proving that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and highlight why that is the case.

What Should I do if I am charged with a DUI in Rhode Island?

As you can see, a DUI trial is a very meticulous process that can be highly complicated. Therefore, even if you are unsure if you want to go to trial, you should contact an experienced DUI attorney to ensure you have the best chance of winning. Ellison Law LLC has experienced DUI attorneys who have extensive DUI trial experience. Once you have reached out to the Ellison Law LLC, their attorneys can look at the facts of your case and come up with the best strategy for you. You can contact Ellison Law LLC for legal representation today at 401-230-5520.


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