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Defense Against New Jersey DWI Prosecution Based on Hearsay

March 14, 2020

In some cases, the prosecution will try to use witness statements to convict suspects of drunk driving. If so, you need an experienced New Jersey DWI attorney who can defend against a DWI witness. A trial judge allowing witness statements to be used against you in a DWI trial may be violating both the hearsay rules of evidence and your right to confront the witnesses against you. If you think this may be an issue in your case, call The Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio today to speak with an experienced DWI defense lawyer.

Defend a DWI with the Hearsay Rule

It is possible that evidence brought against a defendant of a DWI may be deemed inadmissible under the Hearsay Rule. At its core, the Hearsay Rule means that testimony or documents quoting someone not present in court cannot be used against a defendant.

Legal Background of Defending a DWI with the Confrontation Clause and Hearsay

Hearsay Rule has come into existence based on the Constitution’s 6th Amendment, sometimes referred to as the Confrontation Clause.

The Clause principally addresses the concern that a defendant has a right to a face-to-face confrontation of the witnesses against him and has a right to conduct cross-examination of those witnesses. State v. Benitez, 360 N.J. Super. 101, 119 (App. Div. 2003). 

It is well-settled that the hearsay rule is not violated when a police officer explains the reason he approached a suspect or went to the scene of the crime by stating that he did so “upon information received.” State v. Bankston, 63 N.J. 263, 268-69 (1973). Such testimony has been held to be admissible to show that the officer was not acting in an arbitrary manner. Ibid. However, when the officer becomes more specific by repeating what some other person told him concerning a crime by the accused the testimony violates the hearsay rule. Golub v. United States, 404 U.S. 880, 92 S. Ct. 213, 30 L. Ed. 2d 161 (1971). Moreover, the admission of such testimony violates the accused’s Sixth Amendment right to be confronted by the witnesses against him. Bankston, supra, 63 N.J. at 268-69.

An Example of the Hearsay Defense

In State v. Alston, a jury found defendants guilty of aggravated manslaughter and weapons offenses. 312 N.J. Super. 102 (App. Div. 1998). At one point in the homicide investigation, an anonymous call identified defendants as suspects in the killing. On appeal, the court reversed the convictions. The court held that the detective’s testimony as to the substance of the anonymous phone call was inadmissible hearsay that violated the defendants’ right under U.S. Const. amend. VI to be confronted by the witnesses against them. Id. at 112.

This means that if a DWI defendant is apprehended based on an accusation and that fact is explicitly stated by an officer, and the accuser is not able to be located or will not appear in court, it may be possible to use the Hearsay Rule as a DWI defense. 

Why is it a Constitutional Right to Confront a Witness?

Citizens of the United States are afforded the right to confront their witness or accuser in order to reduce the chance that witnesses are lying or providing misleading information. 

According to California v. Green, the 6th Amendment affords each citizen the opportunity of cross examination. It is understood that cross examination is crucial to the goal of discovering the entire truth. 

The main and essential purpose of confrontation is to secure for the opponent the opportunity of cross-examination. California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 90 S. Ct. 1930, 26 L. Ed. 2d 489 (1970).

State v. Benitez helps to drive the point home, ruling that the goal of the Confrontation Clause is to make sure all evidence is reliable, and not hearsay.

The Confrontation Clause’s main concern is to ensure the reliability of the evidence against a criminal defendant by subjecting it to rigorous testing in the context of an adversarial proceeding before the trier of fact. State v. Benitez, 360 N.J. Super. 101, 119 (App. Div. 2003).

In the case of a DWI defense, requiring a witness to attend a trial helps the court ensure that the witness did indeed see what they originally claimed to have seen, or to verify the documents they delivered that serve as evidence of DWI due to high blood alcohol levels. 

Cases Defending Right to Confront a Witness

While the right to confront a witness is guaranteed in the 6th amendment, it is important for rulings to have a precedent, or a case where the law is interpreted and upheld in a specific way.  Following are some benchmark cases that may set a precedent for a DWI defense if your right to confront a witness is infringed on.  

The Right to Confront a Witness Upheld in New Jersey

From the case of State v. King, we can see the Constitution of the United States’ Sixth Amendment’s right to cross-examine a witness being upheld at the state level in New Jersey. 

The right of a defendant in a criminal case to confront the witnesses, whose testimony is to be used against him, as this right is embodied in the Sixth Amendment, is so fundamental in character that its recognition is required in state trials. State v. King, 112 N.J. Super. 138, 141 (App. Div. 1970).

The Fourteenth Amendment Guarantees Right to Confront a Witness

In the case of Pointer v. Texas, the court again upheld the Sixth Amendment, this time citing the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States.  The Fourteenth Amendment states that, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In short, the right to confront a witness for a DWI trial cannot be taken away by any other law passed by the state. 

The Sixth Amendment right of an accused to confront the witnesses against him is a fundamental right and is made obligatory on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 403, 85 S. Ct. 1065, 13 L. Ed. 2d 923 (1965).

Contact a Skilled New Jersey DWI Attorney Today

DWI Prosecutions based on hearsay can provide opportunity for a strong defense for your case. Contact Anthony J. Vecchio, DWI attorney based in Freehold, New Jersey today to discuss your case.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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