Testifying in a Criminal Case as a Victim of a DUI Accident
A DUI is considered a ‘victimless’ crime in Arizona; thus, a defendant can be prosecuted even if no one was injured prior to the arrest.
However, if you were injured in an accident involving a driver who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may be called on to testify in the trial against said driver. It’s normal to feel nervous in such a situation. Just remember that you’re not on trial; and if you don’t speak up, the person who hurt you could go unpunished, and perhaps even harm someone else.
The prosecutor may speak with you briefly or at length before the trial. For attorneys, a general rule when conducting a direct examination is: “Don’t ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.” Therefore, the prosecutor will want to know generally what you’re going to say before you take the stand.
You may also have your own private attorney help you prepare to testify.
When You’re on the Stand
When you’re called to the stand to testify, you’ll probably be questioned by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney.
The prosecutor will ask you questions to establish:
- That the defendant was actually driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- That the defendant caused the accident in which you were injured
- The nature and extent of your injures
You may not have a lot to say about the first issue. If you were seriously injured, you might’ve not had much interaction with the defendant, and thus might not be able to testify about whether he or she seemed impaired.
The defense attorney may object when the prosecutor asks you questions about your injuries. This evidence is not directly relevant to whether the defendant was driving under the influence, because even sober drivers can get into accidents and cause injuries.
The defense attorney may try to get you off the stand as quickly as possible to avoid more opportunities for the jury to feel sympathetic towards you (and thus potentially more likely to convict his or her client).
However, a defense attorney may go on the attack if he or she feels that you could be lying about the accident or concealing facts.
For example, the defense may also endeavor to establish that you yourself were driving recklessly in an attempt to prove that the accident was not caused by the defendant’s impairment.
The defense attorney should not attack a victim’s character in general though and if he or she tries to do so, the prosecutor should object.
Things to Remember When Your Testify
Here are some things to remember when you’re on the stand:
- Always tell the truth.
- Listen carefully to the questions.
- Ask for clarification if you need it.
- Answer ONLY the question asked.
- ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ may be an appropriate answer.
- Say, “I don’t know” if you don’t. You can also say, “I don’t remember” if you don’t.
- Never get into an argument with the lawyer questioning you.
- Be respectful toward the judge and other courtroom personnel.
- Speak loudly and clearly so that the court reporter can hear you and write down what you say.
- If you don’t speak or understand English well, ask for an interpreter well before trial.
- If one attorney objects to the other attorney’s question, wait for the judge to rule and tell you whether or not you should answer.
Helping Yourself and Others with Your Testimony
Remember: if you testify in a criminal DUI case, you’re taking a stand against DUI. You may help get a drunk driver off the roads and save lives.
To learn more about DUI victim’s rights, please visit our DUI injuries page.