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State Tries to Use Prior DUI Conviction Against Defendant in DUI Case

In Florida, when a person obtains a driver’s license, he/she consents to submit to a breathalyzer test when a police officer has probable cause to believe the person is driving while impaired by alcohol and makes a DUI arrest. If the person refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test during a DUI arrest, that person is subjected to a longer driver’s license suspension and the evidence of the breathalyzer refusal can be used against him/or in the DUI case. Additionally, a second breathalyzer refusal during a subsequent DUI arrest in Florida is a misdemeanor crime.

When a person refuses the breathalyzer test and goes on to have a DUI trial, the state will always bring out the fact of the refusal and argue to the jury that the defendant refused the breathalyzer because he/she knew it would show that he/she was impaired by alcohol. Of course, the criminal defense lawyer and the defendant can refute that assumption with their own arguments as to why the defendant refused the breathalyzer.

However, in a recent DUI case west of Jacksonville, Florida, the state attempted to do something quite different. In this DUI case, the defendant refused to submit to the breathalyzer. Apparently, the defendant had a prior DUI arrest and conviction many years before where he actually submitted to the breathalyzer test. At the trial, the defendant was asked by the prosecutor why he refused the breathalyzer test, and the defendant said that he did not trust the breathalyzer test. The state then brought out evidence of the defendant’s prior DUI case where he did submit to the test.

Normally, at a trial the state cannot bring out evidence of other crimes the defendant committed in the past. This is considered to be overly prejudicial evidence. In any trial, the question is whether the defendant committed the crime(s) for which he/she is currently on trial, not other crimes in the past. Showing the jury that the defendant committed similar or other crimes in the past tends to take the focus of the jury away from the particular evidence in the case and places the defendant in a bad light with the jury.

In this case, the defendant’s DUI conviction was thrown out. The state improperly brought out evidence of the defendant’s prior DUI case that was irrelevant to the DUI case that was the basis for the trial and unnecessarily prejudicial to the defendant.