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DUI? Prove it

A Tennessee state representative was arrested last week and charged with a DUI and a violation of the state's implied consent law. What might surprise some people is that he is challenging the arrest, claiming he is innocent of the charges.

To some degree, the notion that because he was arrested, he must be guilty, is a difficult current to swim against. Many residents of Tennessee, who have never encountered law enforcement, at times, may mistake the arresting officer for the judge and jury, turning the presumption of innocence on its head. 

The proper performance of the system requires scrupulous attention to detail from all involved, and as many cases demonstrate, law enforcement is not above committing errors.

Conviction requires the state to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, not merely to assert the charges. The news report notes the arrest affidavit states the representative failed a field sobriety test, had blood shot eyes and smelled of alcohol.

But virtually every arrest for a DUI would make a similar claim in the affidavit, including those that were later found to be fabrications by the officer. For the integrity of the system, it is important that those claims are supported by evidence beyond the mere word of an officer, as again, unpleasant as it is to consider, law enforcement officers do lie.

Many people, if charged with a DUI, want it to go away as soon as possible and will accept a plea agreement, sometimes failing to grasp the long-term consequences.

While it is true that a criminal trial can be expensive, time consuming and embarrassing, unless we were actually on the scene of the arrest, it is difficult to know what occurred simply based on the arresting officer's statement.

Too many cases being resolved by plea agreements can allow police and prosecutors to be lazy and sloppy. Ideally, every case would be tried to a conclusion, forcing the state to prove every element, every time.

Source: Tennessean.com, "State Rep. Bill Beck says he will fight DUI charge," Dave Boucher, April 17, 2015

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