In New Jersey on Monday, three friends were separately charged with DUI. Carmen Reatequi started the chain reaction when she was arrested for suspicion of DUI at about 1:45 on Monday morning. Reatequi called her friend, Nina Petracca, to pick her up from the police station. Unfortunately for Petracca, when she arrived at the station to pick up her friend, the police noted signs of intoxication. Petracca performed roadside tests in the lobby, failed and was also arrested for a DUI. Enter the third friend, called to pick up his two friends at the police station, who also smelled of alcohol and was charged with a DUI. Fortunately for these three friends, the fourth time was the charm and all three were released to a sober adult and are expected to appear in court in January.
This series of unfortunate events may raise the question of how the police charged Reatequi’s friends with DUI if the police did not actually see them drive. The laws in each state are different, so New Jersey’s laws may differ from Colorado’s laws, but in Colorado, depending on the circumstances, it could be difficult for a prosecutor to prove a DUI without a witness to any driving. Presumably, Reatequi’s friends told police they had driven to the station, may have had their car keys in their possession and the police may have even gone out to the parking lot to locate the cars and could have gone as far as to touch the hood of the car to see whether the engine was warm. Each of these facts are called circumstantial evidence, meaning they are not direct evidence of driving. Direct evidence of driving is actually witnessing the driving. Possession of the keys and a warm engine give rise to an inference that the friends drove.
In Colorado, circumstantial evidence is not treated any different than direct evidence. Jurors are permitted by law to give circumstantial evidence the same weight as direct evidence. That said, as a practical matter, jurors may decide not to give as much weight to circumstantial evidence as direct evidence. If the prosecution’s case is built solely or even heavily on circumstantial evidence, a good defense attorney may be able to combat the prosecution’s case. If you have been charged with a DUI or any other crime and you believe the prosecution’s case is circumstantial, it is important to have an attorney analyze your case for weaknesses.