Who has the Burden to Prove a Legal Defense in a San Diego Criminal Case?

When a person is charged with a criminal case in southern California, the burden is on prosecution to prove that the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Looking at an example will provide clarification. Dan was stopped by officers on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was sleeping in the backseat of his parked car, in a parking lot, with the engine off and the key in his pocket. The parking lot was to a Target store, and no bar, club or restaurant. Dan submitted to a breath test and blew a .10, well above the legal limit for blood alcohol.

When brought before the Judge, prosecution will argue that Dan was in fact driving under the influence, even if he was found sleeping in the backseat of his parked car. They will use the facts of the situation ( known as circumstantial evidence) to create a scenario for the court that demonstrates that at some point, Dan was driving while under the influence.

They will say that he had to have gotten to the parking lot somehow since it was apparent that Dan had not drank somewhere nearby and walked to his car. They will suggest that the car is Dan’s, he is the only person in it, and he has the keys. Therefore, all the facts lead up to Dan having driven to the parking lot, while intoxicated and eventually having stopped and taken a nap.

The jury will then determine if the facts prove that Dan is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, Dan has the option to present his defense. With the help of a knowledgeable DUI lawyer, Dan can prepare a strong argument that disputes one of the essential elements of a DUI case. If Dan presents a defense, he has the burden to show that the defense invalidates his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A necessary element for a person to be found guilty of a DUI, is that the prosecutor’s must prove the person had been driving AND intoxicated. Here, there is no dispute that Dan was intoxicated, since there is a breathalyzer proving his BAC. However, he was not observed by officer’s to be driving. The prosecutor’s can only make an inference, and using evidence, prove that inference is true beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dan, with the help of a DUI specialist, argues that he had not been driving but was dropped off at his car by a friend after leaving the friend’s house and realizing that he was too drunk to drive, fell asleep in the backseat. His Criminal Defense lawyer then creates a scenario for the Judge that corroborates Dan’s account of events that night. The car was still parked, and Dan was in the backseat sleeping. The keys were not in the ignition or anywhere near the ignition, but were in his pocket. Additionally, the attorney will likely contact the friend to testify as to Dan’s story, creating a strong defense that Dan was not driving.

A strong defense to any criminal charge significantly weakens Prosecution’s argument. With a weak argument, the government cannot prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the case will likely be dismissed or reduced.