One of the most important components of a criminal trial is the opening statement made by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney. These statements allow both sides to speak directly to the jury and begin framing their case in a way so that the jurors will be more responsive to the evidence which comes later in the trial.
However, there are certain rules which lawyers from both sides must observe during opening statements. These rules were the focus of a decision entitled Puyallup v. Spenser that was published earlier this month by the Washington Court of Appeals Division One.
The original case was the trial of William Spenser in Puyallup Municipal Court on a charge of driving under the influence. During the state's opening statement, the prosecutor told the jury that Spenser's blood alcohol level was .112 or .113 according to a breath test which would be introduced as evidence. But the defense attorney asked for a mistrial, saying that the prosecutor's mention of the breath test results in the opening statement was unduly prejudicial to the jury. The judge denied the motion; and after the breath test results and other evidence were presented to the jury, Spenser was found guilty.
The defense then appealed the verdict to Pierce County Superior Court, and that court reversed Spenser's conviction on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion by denying a mistrial after the prejudicial evidence was revealed during opening statements. The case was appealed again to the Washington Court of Appeals.
The appellate court referred to a previous case which read in part: "It is well settled that any party may, in opening statement, refer to admissible evidence expected to be presented at trial." As a result, the appellate court sided with the prosecutor and reversed the superior court's reversal; and Spenser's conviction was reinstated.
Though the mistrial motion was ultimately unsuccessful, it does illustrate the value of having an experienced DUI defense attorney representing you in court. This type of lawyer has the knowledge and the expertise to determine whether or not a DUI suspect is getting a fair trial. So be sure to keep this in mind if you are ever detained or arrested for DUI in Washington.