There is a well known law in Florida that statements you make to a police officer investigating your traffic accident cannot be used against you at a criminal or civil trial. The law was made to encourage people to be truthful during accident investigations. This rule becomes very important if you are later charged with DUI. DUI Crash Investigation Statements can’t be used against you in a criminal trial. UNLESS the officer:
- Specifically informs you that they are now conducting a Criminal Investigation (called “Switching Hats”)
- Reads you Miranda warnings before asking questions that might incriminate you.
A good case on this issue is called Wetherington v. State. In that case Mr. Weatherington was involved in a single vehicle crash. At trial he claimed that his girlfriend was driving the car. He said they had just switched seat so he could try to start the car – after the crash. His girlfriend also testified that she was the driver of the car.
But during the “accident investigation”, Weatherington said he was the driver of the car. When the officer testified at trial, he told the jury about Weatherinton’s DUI accident investigation statements.
There was another witness who saw Weatherington in the driver’s seat, but that was after the crash. The only evidence presented at trial of Weatherinton driving was an admission he made to the officer during the “accident investigation”. (In any DUI, there must be real proof that you were the driver of the car – it’s called a wheel witness).
Weatherington was convicted of Felony DUI. (this was his 3rd DUI – it became a Felony based on prior DUI convictions). He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and he appealed his conviction.
The Appeals Court threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial. The Court said that the statement made during the accident investigation shouldn’t have been used against Weatherington at trial. It was made before the DUI investigation began. His felony DUI conviction was reversed.
In this case, the officer investigated the traffic accident and took Weatherington’s statements. But he never advised the Defendant that he was conducting a criminal investigation and did not read him Miranda warnings. The officer never “switched hats”. That would have allowed the DUI Crash Investigation statements to be admissible at trial.
This is a basic example of why you need to talk to an experienced DUI attorney, if you are arrested. Admitting to DUI after a crash may not mean you will be found guilty. In fact in may not even hurt your case at all.