If you do the crime, you should do the time. That’s a popular mantra of the “tough-on-crime” politicians.But if you accept this axiom as true, you must also recognize its inverse: you shouldn’t do the time if you didn’t do the crime. And since our justice system embraces a code of “innocent until proven guilty,” that last statement should really read as follows: you shouldn’t do the time if it cannot be proven that you did the crime.
That’s why the Washington Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man on a felony DUI charge last week in State v. Santos.
In Washington, a person can be charged with felony DUI if he or she has four or more misdemeanor DUI convictions in the state over the previous ten years. Heraquio Santos was recently accused of driving under the influence. During his trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence four cases, each of which indicated that Santos had been convicted of DUI. Even though the defense articulated an objection as to the admissibility of the cases, the judge allowed them into evidence anyway – and Santos was convicted of felony DUI.
Sounds pretty cut and dried, right? Not exactly.
The defense attorney appealed the verdict, saying that the state did not prove that those four cases pertained to his client. All of the cases in question contained the name Heraquio Santos, but one of them listed a birth date that conflicted with the age in guilty plea statements made in two of the other cases. Furthermore, the appellate court noted that even if all four cases could be linked to one another, the prosecution did not produce evidence that they referenced the Heraquio Santos that was being tried. The four case files did not have identifying information like a photograph or fingerprints which could be compared to the man who was sitting at the defense table; in fact, the state didn’t even ascertain Mr. Santos’s true birthdate, criminal history, or physical address.
In the absence of such verifying information, the appellate court ruled that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Heraquio Santos had committed all of the crimes he was being accused of. As a result, the appeals court vacated the felony DUI charge and reduced it to a gross misdemeanor DUI charge. All because the prosecution assumed (but didn’t prove) that the man in the four previous cases was the same individual being tried a fifth time on DUI charges.