Standard of Proof on Refusals Changed by the Supreme Court

While the Supreme Court implemented its amendment to the Guidelines for Operation of Plea Bargains in Municipal Courts, the Court made it more difficult for Prosecutors to prove the charge of refusing to submit a breath sample, in holding that the highest standard of proof, applied in criminal cases  had to be applied.

In the matter of State v. Cummings, the Court decided on June 23, 2005 that prosecutions for refusing to submit a chemical test after being arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, required the State to prove the statutory elements of the offense, by the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

This decision is significant in light of the fact that the statute provides for a much less severe standard of proof, that being by preponderance of evidence.  Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Cummings, the State then, only had to prove that a Defendant refused to submit a sample of breath and that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Defendant had operated a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, by a preponderance of evidence.

The term “preponderance of evidence” is often referred to as a standard where the State must only prove slightly more evidence than the evidence presented on behalf of the Defendant to meets its burden of proof.  Under the new standard, the State must now establish by the most stringent standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that all of the elements of the offense of refusing to submit a sample of breath for breath testing purposes were met.  Consequently, the State’s ability to prove a violation of this statute has become more difficult.