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DUI Circumstantial Evidence

DUI Circumstantial Evidence

No matter whether you're facing a DUI in Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, or any other Virginia Court, in order to be convicted the prosecution has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Virginia Code § 18.2-266 provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate any motor vehicle . . . while such person is under the influence of alcohol[.]" 


Most DUI cases involve an officer who says that he saw a driver driving, then pulled them over on probable cause, then arrested the person on suspicion of DUI.  That's what's known as direct evidence.  But what if nobody sees a driver driving?  Can they still be convicted?  It's possible if circumstantial evidence proves guilt.

What is Circumstantial Evidence

Here's some case law for you.

"[I]t 'is axiomatic that any fact that can be proved by direct evidence may be proved by circumstantial evidence.'" Haskins v. Commonwealth, 44 Va.App. 1, 6 (2004) (quoting Etherton v. Doe, 268 Va. 209, 212-13 (2004)). "Settled principles provide that '[w]here the evidence is entirely circumstantial, . . . [t]he chain of necessary circumstances must be unbroken. The circumstances of motive, time, place, means, and conduct must all concur to form an unbroken chain [that] links the defendant to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Rams v. Commonwealth, 70 Va.App. 12, 36 (2019) (alterations in original) (quoting Bishop v. Commonwealth, 227 Va. 164, 169 (1984)). "[W]hile no single piece of evidence may be sufficient, the combined force of many concurrent and related circumstances . . . may lead a reasonable mind irresistibly to a conclusion." Williams v. Commonwealth, 71 Va.App. 462, 484-85 (2020) (alterations in original) (quoting Commonwealth v. Moseley, 293 Va. 455, 463 (2017)). "[A]ll necessary circumstances proved must be consistent with guilt and inconsistent with innocence and exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence." Betancourt v. Commonwealth, 26 Va.App. 363, 373 (1998) (alteration in original) (quoting Stover v. Commonwealth, 222 Va. 618, 623 (1981)).

What Happened in the Shelton Felony DUI Case

Patricia Branch was sitting in her house when she heard "a huge explosion bang" somewhere outside. Branch immediately responded to what she thought might be a car accident and arrived at the scene of the crash within five minutes. As she approached, Branch observed two dazed women outside the overturned vehicle. Branch did not see anyone else in the area, and no one left the scene of the accident before police and medical personnel arrived. Shelton was bleeding and had a significant laceration to her forehead. Shelton admitted she had been drinking about an hour and a half before the accident. Shelton claimed that a co-worker by the name of Jessica was driving, but she could not provide a description or last name. Glassco denied knowing anyone named Jessica or that such a person was with them that evening. Shelton's blood alcohol was later analyzed at the lab and determined to be .21% by weight by volume. 

At the scene of the accident Shelton told police that a co-worker named Jessica, whose last name she did not know and whom she could not describe, was driving the car. However, no one named Jessica was in the area and Branch did not see anyone else in the vicinity of the vehicle or leaving the scene of the accident when she arrived shortly after the crash. 

The result:  a guilty verdict at trial.  Think of it this way:  if a suspect blames an accident on someone who isn't on the scene and can't be identified, they could say that "circumstantial evidence" points to the suspect.

BUT.  Ask about our DUI success where we had a similar fact pattern where the police arrived to see our client and the question about who was driving the vehicle was at issue.

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When you hire S.L. England, we will assign your case to a seasoned trial attorney that cares about getting results. We represent our individual clients as aggressively as represent our corporate business clients. Check our reviews on Google and Yelp to see what our clients have to say. We look forward to representing you.


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