Whatever Happened to the Presumption of Innocence
Information courtesy of Lawrence Taylor - DUIblog
In most countries of the world, an accusation by the State forces the accused to prove himself innocent. In America, however, the presumption of innocence has always been a fundamental part of our rights as a free people. This basic protection against the power of the government has been recognized as flowing from the 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments to our Constitution. As the United States Supreme Court has said, "The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law." Coffin v. U.S., 156 U.S. 432 (1895).
So what happened to this presumption of innocence in a drunk driving case? Is this yet another example of "the DUI exception to the Constitution"? Lets take a look at how our DUI laws have slowly eroded this fundamental right....
Lets assume you have been arrested for drunk driving, and a Breathalyzer gave a reading of .09% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). You will probably be charged with two crimes: (1) driving under the influence of alcohol, and (2) driving with over .08% BAC. Lets look at the .08% charge first.
The .08% offense depends entirely upon the results of the breath machine (often called a "Breathalyzer", although there are many makes and models). These machines are notorously unreliable for any number of reasons. But a funny thing happens when your attorney tries to bring out those reasons for the jury. He tries to point out, for example, that the Breathalyzer computes the results by presuming that the defendant has a "partition ratio" of 2100:1 (the ratio of alcohol in the breath to the alcohol in the blood) -- but that this is only an average: the defendants ratio is much lower, so the .09% reading should actually be .07%. However, the judge stops him: the law presumes that all men are average -- even if they are not.
In fact, the Supreme Court of California has specifically