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Guilty of DUI by Circumstantial Evidence

The state has the burden of proof in any criminal case, including when the allegations are driving under the influence (DUI). But a jury may draw reasonable inferences from the evidence in finding an accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They did so in the recent case of State v. Barham, W2011-02348-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 9-17-2012). In that case, the accused's own words and actions, along with observations by witnesses, led to the conclusion that he had been driving under the influence, even though he was not observed driving.

Around 2:00 a.m. one morning in June 2010, a witness was awakened by a loud noise. Stepping outside to investigate, he observed that a car appeared to have crashed into the back of the witness' van. According to the witness, Defendant, Mr. Barham, crawled out of a side window of the car and left. Barham returned a few minutes later. Jackson Police Department officers also arrived to investigate. They observed Barham attempting to remove a stereo system from the car, which was a silver Camaro. The police officers described Barham as loud, belligerent, smelling of alcohol, having slurred speech, and impaired. He was also found to have the Camaro's keys in his pocket. No one said they saw him driving it though. At the scene, he explained to the police that he had happened upon the scene and knew the owner so he had taken the keys and a CD player faceplate to prevent them from being stolen.

Upon being further questioned at the scene about whether he had himself stolen the items from the vehicle, Barham recalled that he had indeed been driving the vehicle and had permission from the owner. Barham also admitted to the officers he had been drinking, but suggested it was not connected with the accident. He declined to cooperate with field sobriety tests.

The Court of Criminal Appeals found the evidence sufficient to convict Barham of DUI (he was additionally convicted of driving with a revoked license).

As in any criminal case, an accused's statements and actions at the scene of a DUI investigation may be considered and may contribute ultimately to jury conclusions of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For advice about what to do if you are investigated for DUI or suspicion of other criminal conduct, contact Hindman & Associates.

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