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Wisconsin man convicted for DUI despite no proof he was driving

We often write that there are rules and procedures law enforcement must follow in prosecuting alleged drunk drivers. Police officers need probable cause to administer field sobriety tests, and those tests need to be administered correctly.

It is also possible to challenge the accuracy of blood, breath and urine tests if a defendant feels they are incorrect. Unfortunately, Wisconsin courts sometimes allow convictions based on scant evidence. Last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a DUI conviction even though the defendant was never even seen in the car.

In 2007, a man from Rib Mountain was convicted of his sixth drunk driving offense. However, he was never pulled over by police or even seen driving his car. Rather, he was caught attempting to break into his estranged wife's house in nearby Wausau.

When he was caught, his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.23 percent. He was convicted of DUI based solely on information gathered from an electronic monitoring device (EMD) the man was required to wear.

The EMD only showed that he had made the 15-minute trip between the two cities in about 20 minutes. The man did not deny driving, but claims he got drunk at a nearby bar after arriving in Wausau.

The evidence was entirely circumstantial. Nonetheless, he was convicted and the ruling was upheld all the way through the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Court rejected the man's appeal that the EMD should have required expert testimony before it could be entered into evidence.

Only two justices dissented. For the minority opinion, Chief Justice Abrahamson wrote: "Expert testimony was necessary in the present case to provide the court, in evaluating this technology for the first time, with the evidence necessary to ensure the reliability of the underlying scientific principles."

Unfortunately, this sound reasoning was provided by the minority opinion and the man's conviction was upheld. It sets a poor precedent for justice when drunk driving can be prosecuted with little or no corroborating evidence.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Wis. Supreme Court upholds DUI case that had no witnesses," July 19, 2011

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