How to Lose a DUI Trial Before it Begins

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on December 22nd, 2004

Simple: Have a prosecutor on the bench.

The public perception of judges is that they are largely fair and impartial. Unfortunately, this is becoming ever less true — at least, in the politically sensitive area of DUI litigation.

To begin with, the reality is that an increasingly high percentage of judges are former prosecutors; very few are public defenders or defense attorneys. In fact, a growing number of attorneys become prosecutors to obtain the "qualifications" for later election or political appointment to the bench. Not surprisingly, the rulings of these judges too often reflect their prosecutorial orientation.

Backgrounds aside, is the judiciary objective in DUI cases? Well, again there is the political reality: the failure to "get tough" on DUI defendants tends to result in negative comments from MADD, prosecutors and police agencies come re-election time — maybe even in an endorsement of the latest prosecutor who wants the judge's position.

Let's take a look at some of these online "resources" for training judges how to handle DUI cases and trials…..

For starters, there's an article from the American Prosecutors Research Institute, entitled Overcoming Impaired Driving Defenses. The article "identifies the most common defenses used in DUI cases and provides specific strategies for overcoming these claims." So why are judges being taught how to "overcome" an accused citizen's defense in a DUI trial?

Another online article is Handling Impaired Driving Cases. According to the prefatory comments, this material covers "common aspects of impaired driving cases", including "anticipating defense issues". The introduction to the article describes various blood-alcohol problems in DUI cases and then observes that "Prosecutors can easily skewer defenses like those…" The article then presents specific "claims" often raised by the defense — and the "reality" refuting those obviously false claims.

Why do judges need to "anticipate" legal issues which may be raised by a defendant? What about legal issues raised by the prosecution? And what is meant by "anticipating defense issues"? Clearly, judges are being taught (by prosecutors) what decisions to make — before ever hearing the evidence.

Another article on the judicial website, Admissibility of Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, explains to judges "why it is the most reliable field sobriety test for detecting alcohol impairment" — again, before any testimony from the police or evidence from the defense. Yet another, Validation of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery at BACs Below 0.10 Percent, teaches judges that "field testing found the SFST battery to be extremely accurate in discriminating between BACs above and below 0.10 percent", apparently making defense cross-examination irrelevant. Then there's the Annual Traffic Seminar: "In this two-day seminar, judges learn about the use of the Intoxilyzer 5000 and laying a foundation for police officer testimony…"

All of this, of course, makes due process and criminal justice much more….expedient. With judges already pre-instructed by the prosecution, there is no real need for things like testimony or evidence in a DUI trial. Or for a trial.