Before a jury can hear, see, or otherwise be exposed to any evidence in a case, that evidence must first pass through the rules of evidence. What are those rules? The rules of evidence are a set of rules, regulations, and court opinions that define what is and is not allowed to be presented to a jury.
The rules of evidence are many and complex. In fact, a large part of what a lawyer does is understand and apply the rules of evidence to any given DWI case. A recent case out of the Court of Appeals in Austin illustrates the importance of the rules of evidence, and what impact they can have on a trial and an appeal.
What Happened in This Case
According to the official opinion of the court, a concerned citizen called 911 in late 2013. The caller reported to the dispatch officer that she had seen a vehicle driving recklessly, that could not stay in the right lane, and that was exceeding 90 m.p.h. A police officer was dispatched immediately and found a car with the same description and license plate as was reported on the 911 call.
When the police came on scene, they did not observe the described car driving recklessly or speeding. Nonetheless, the driver was pulled over and arrested on suspicion of DWI. The case went to trial where the only exhibits of evidence entered against him were the 911 call, dash cam video of the arrest, and testimony of the officer and 911 dispatcher. On that evidence the man was convicted of DWI, fined $4,000, and sentenced to one year in jail.
Unfair and Prejudice
On appeal the man argued to points of error he felt went against him at trial. The first, and one dealing with the rules of evidence, was that the court should not have allowed the 911 call into evidence. His argument was that allowing the jury to hear the 911 call unfairly prejudiced the jury against him because of what it described. Without the ability to cross examine the caller, the jury heard him complaining of a driver speeding, driving recklessly, and breaking the law.
On appeal, the court considered this argument, but ultimately denied it because the attorney for the man did not properly object at trial that the evidence would unfairly prejudice the jury in violation of rule 403 of the rules of evidence. That rule states that otherwise admissible evidence is not admissible if it would unfairly sway the jury in one direction or another when compared to its probative value, meaning the extent it goes to proving an element of guilt, liability, or innocence.
As a result of not preserving the record at trial, the appeals court never broached the issue of whether introducing the 911 call violated rule 403. This shows how important the rules of evidence are at every stage of a case. It also shows how having the right legal team fighting for you can make all the difference in your DWI case.
If you are accused of DWI, contact us. Our team at The Wilder DWI Defense Firm will take every measure under the law, and use our experience to ensure you get the best representation possible. When you contact us we will give you a free case evaluation, and help you understand what your options are.