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In Florida, the State Must Prove the Defendant was Driving or in Actual Physical Control of the Vehicle for a DUI Conviction

One often overlooked element of a DUI (“driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs”) charge is the requirement that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was either driving the vehicle or in actual physical control of the vehicle while impaired from alcohol or drugs. Most of the time, this is not an issue as most DUI cases result from a traffic stop where the police officer observes the driver allegedly commit some traffic violation. However, in DUI cases involving accidents, this can be a significant issue that can result in DUI charges being dropped.

Unlike with traffic stops, accidents often occur without observation by a police officer, and possibly without any witnesses at all. In accidents with other drivers, sometimes the other driver does not actually see who was driving the vehicle that hit his/her vehicle. In single vehicle accidents, the driver is usually out of the vehicle by the time the police officer arrives. In these cases, it may be fairly obvious who was driving. However, assumptions are not sufficient to prove the defendant was driving beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, once the police officer arrives, he/she will take a statement from the driver who will likely disclose the fact that he/she was in fact driving the vehicle. However, there is a good chance this admission by the driver is not admissible in a DUI trial.

In Florida, there is something called the accident report privilege. This privilege requires people involved in an accident to tell the police officer what happened in the accident. Because there is a requirement to talk to police, any statements a driver makes about the crash during the accident investigation cannot be used against him/her in a criminal case. Therefore, if the only evidence the police have that the DUI suspect was driving prior to the accident came from the driver’s own statements while the police officer was investigating the accident, that statement cannot be used against the DUI suspect and the DUI charges should be dismissed.