When police officers are convinced that they are right about an arrest decision, being able to prove the error of the officer’s arrest decision can be daunting. Officers are trained in how to write reports that will pass muster of a supervisory officer, and get approval from a ranking officer. Likewise, officers are trained on how to give courtroom testimony to support their written reports and investigations.
We hear of highly-publicized exonerations of innocent citizens through news reports from The Innocence Project or on TV documentaries, but these are almost always murder cases, which seem to mesmerize and captivate the viewing public. The place where the most wrongful arrests take place, by 100 fold, is in the field of impaired driving arrests. Many police departments have specialized “task forces” for interdiction of DUI-DWI drivers, and often these squads have quotas or “standards” that have to be met in order for the unit to not have to repay federal grant money for low-yield arrest results of the task force.
Even when an officer has made errors for an arrest decision or has jumped to a conclusion that is not clearly supported by the driving conduct, the physical “manifestation” evidence or possibly from witness statements, prosecutors are sometimes unwilling to sift through the questionable evidence to make an independent “call” about the sufficiency of the police officer’s DUI-DWI case. Far too often, the prosecutor takes the arresting officer’s report and summary of the evidence at face value, without digging deeper to see if the officer’s report is contradicted by other, more credible evidence available to the prosecutor. This deferral to the officer’s decision is especially prevalent in cases brought by officers assigned to a DUI task force.
Today, video evidence captured from police cars or from private business exterior security cameras or from roadside monitoring cameras can refute the officer’s written account of an arrest for DUI-DWI. At no place is this disconnect more apparent than in DUI-DWI arrests, where digital video and audio recordings often contradict the officer’s padded or exaggerated account of “signs of impairment” or so-called inability to perform roadside field sobriety evaluations.
Often, citizens who are stopped by a law enforcement officer late at night are unaware of the voluntary and optional nature of roadside sobriety evaluations or “field sobriety tests.” These upstanding citizens (as they view themselves in their minds) are anxious to demonstrate their sobriety by attempting these subjectively graded exercises only to learn that the deck is stacked against them when these evaluations are “graded” by a task force officer seeking to make a DUI-DWI arrest. The same citizens who are quick to say YES to field evaluations are also quick to give up their right to REMAIN SILENT and to not admit anything about consuming alcohol or other impairing substances prior to driving, such as their prescribed medications for anxiety, pain or depression. Cooperation — many citizens naively believe — will result in being allowed to go home.
The truth is that doing these two things (admitting to ingesting an impairing substance and attempting to do roadside evaluations) will result in arrest in the overwhelming majority of cases. Only by hiring a knowledgeable attorney who is an expert in DUI-DWI defense does the accused citizen have his or her best chance at winning these tough cases.