An interesting case was released out of the 9th circuit recently (Orange County, Florida) that dealt with a DUI Motion to Suppress regarding the Accident Report Privilege.
WHAT IS THE ACCIDENT REPORT PRIVILEGE?
The “Accident Report Privilege” is a legal privilege that protects a person who is speaking to law enforcement during a traffic accident in order to encourage people to truthfully and fully report the facts surrounding traffic accidents. Florida Statue § 316.066(4) provides that “accident reports made by persons involved in accidents shall be without prejudice to the individual reporting” and that “[n]o such report shall be used as evidence in any trial.”
HOW DOES THE ACCIDENT REPORT PRIVILEGE APPLY TO DUI CHARGES?
When a traffic accident is related to a DUI (the crash was caused by someone driving under the influence, or a person involved in the crash was driving under the influence at the time of the crash), police officers are technically doing two separate investigations: one for the crash and one for the DUI. Typically, the responding officer will start with the crash investigation to figure out what happened. Then, once the officer completes the traffic crash investigation, if the officer suspects that a driver was driving under the influence, he or she is supposed to read the suspect his or her Miranda Warnings and “change hats” to that of a criminal investigation. When making a determination as to whether the elements of Driving Under the Influence exist to make an arrest, the officer cannot rely on evidence from a traffic investigation.
WHY WOULD THE POLICE HAVE TO READ YOUR RIGHTS?
The purpose of a police officer advising you of your Miranda Rights is to let you know that a criminal investigation is starting and that the officer will be asking you questions. Prior to being interrogated, a person who is in custody must be clearly informed that he/she has (1) the right to remain silent, (2) that anything he/she says can and will be used against him/her in a court of law, (3) that he/she has the right to consult with an attorney prior to and during any questioning, and (4) that if he/she cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for him/her at no cost.
With DUI cases, a person involved in a traffic accident has a duty to report what happened during the accident. However, reporting could cause the person to implicate themselves in a crime (DUI). Florida legislatures recognized this problem and created the accident report privilege to protect statements made during the accident investigation, and required the investigating officer to let the suspect know that now the officer is conducting a criminal investigation against the suspect so that it is clear the traffic investigation is over.
SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CASE?
In the case of State v. Alli, the Defense filed a Motion to Suppress illegally obtained evidence. There, the Defendant was involved in a traffic accident. During the traffic investigation, the Defendant admitted to the officer that she was driving the vehicle involved in the accident. However, the officer never “changed hats” from his traffic crash investigation to his DUI investigation. No other witnesses could specifically identify the defendant as the driver of the car at the time of the accident. The Defendant answered questions asked by the officer for the accident investigation truthfully and without knowledge of a criminal DUI investigation starting. The 9th Circuit Court ruled that for the State of Florida to be able to use the statements/evidence given by the Defendant during the accident investigation, the Defendant’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination would be violated. Therefore, the Court granted the Defendant’s Motion and suppressed all of the evidence obtained unlawfully by the officer without properly “switching hats.”
A person who is facing DUI charges in Florida should contact a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with DUI cases and has filed motions to suppress. A person who is placed under arrest and interrogated without being read Miranda Rights may be able to have his/her statements suppressed (or thrown out). However, that does not mean the case has to be or will be dismissed. Anyone who has questions regarding their particular case, or Miranda rights in general, should contact a criminal defense attorney.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Greenspoon Marder in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.