In many instances in which a defendant is charged with a DWI offense, the key disputed issue is whether the defendant actually operated a vehicle while intoxicated. Thus, in many cases, the prosecution will seek to introduce circumstantial evidence that suggests the defendant was driving prior to his or her arrest. Any court considering what evidence should be admitted must conduct a balancing test between whether the evidence is relevant or unduly prejudicial. However, the introduction of inappropriate evidence may constitute a violation of the defendant’s rights. This was evidenced in a recent case in which the court overturned a verdict convicting the defendant of multiple DWI related crimes due to the admission of inappropriate hearsay evidence. If you are a resident of New Jersey currently faced with DWI charges, it is important to retain an assertive New Jersey DWI defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights.
The Defendant’s Charges and Convictions
It is reported that the defendant was charged with driving during a license suspension for a second or subsequent DWI, DWI, and numerous other traffic offenses. The main issue at trial was whether the defendant actually operated the vehicle prior to his arrest. The defendant presented testimony from his wife that she was driving and left the defendant by the side of the road after an argument. Conversely, the State presented testimony from the arresting officer that he was dispatched after a 911 call reporting that an intoxicated male had crashed his vehicle and was stuck on the side of the road.
Following the trial, the defendant was convicted of all counts and sentenced to 365 days in jail for the crime of driving with a suspended license and 180 days in jail for the DWI. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting hearsay testimony regarding the 911 call. Upon review, the appellate court agreed, finding the testimony was hearsay and unduly prejudicial, and reversed the defendant’s convictions.
When the Admission of Hearsay Testimony Requires Reversal
In most cases, trial courts are given broad leeway with regard to evidentiary decisions, and their decisions will not be overturned unless they result in a manifest denial of justice. Thus, when a trial court commits a clear error in judgment, the appellate court must assess whether the error is harmless or whether it requires a reversal of the trial court ruling.
In the subject case, the court found that the testimony regarding the 911 call was hearsay and that the trial court erred in permitting it to be introduced. The court stated that hearsay is not admissible in a criminal trial to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants to confront witnesses. While a witness can testify regarding investigations triggered due to information he or she received from an outside source, a witness cannot testify regarding details of a crime that were relayed via another source. The court found that the testimony regarding the 911 call was hearsay, and it was prejudicial. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling and vacated the judgment against the defendant.
Speak with a Trusted New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney
If you live in New Jersey and are faced with a DWI charge, it is wise to speak with a trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorney regarding what evidence the State may be permitted to introduce against you at trial. The diligent attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are skilled at crafting compelling defenses for individuals charged with DWI offenses, and we will fight zealously on your behalf. We can be contacted at 877-450-8301 or via our form online to set up a consultation.