Why the dash-cam is a DUI attorney's best friend

Posted by Daniel J. Gerl | Mar 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

"I just want to you let you know you are being audio-video recorded."

Those words, from a police officer to the driver he just stopped (and quite likely, already suspects of Driving Under the Influence), no doubt send shivers down that driver's spine. When someone arrested for a Seattle or Tacoma DUI calls me, one of the first things I want to know is if the contact was recorded by the officer's dash-cam or BAC room camera. I am ALWAYS relieved when the answer is yes.

Why? Because in 8 years dealing with DUI cases I've found the dash-cam doesn't lie.

Dashcam

At worse, the video will make clear for my client and me what we're up against. Forgotten details, or things the officer says he saw or heard that my client insists didn't happen or he doesn't remember, show up on video and spark recall. Unfortunate statements or admissions are there for us to see, so we can start dealing with it. When you go to a doctor, he takes X-rays to show you where the problem is, serving as a starting point to recovery. Same goes for DUI.

But the best case scenario - and the one I more frequently encounter - is that the video shows discrepancies or outright errors in the officer's investigation. Inconsistencies between what's in the incident report and what the dash-cam captured at the roadside, or in the BAC (breath test) room. Not only visually but audio as well. (Unfortunately the camera's audio isn't always active in the BAC room.) Officers rarely lie, but they exaggerate all the time. And they make mistakes. The camera keeps them honest.

Perhaps the officer turned her back on my client before the breath test, and thus didn't really observe him continuously during the 15 Minute Observation Period as required, which recently resulted in a client's DOL license suspension being cancelled. Or the officer missed important steps in his investigation, or exhibited uncalled for aggression (which we've unfortunately seen far too much of here in the Seattle area). Maybe the driver didn't really do as poorly on those Standardized Field Sobriety Tests as the officer claimed she did in his report.

This just happened on a case of mine this past week. The officer claimed my client lacked coordination and did poorly on the Walk and Turn test, while conceding that she did “fairly well" on the One Leg Stand test. But the video showed clearly that she showed little if any lack of coordination on the first test - and virtually aced the second one. The case was thrown out for lack of probable cause to arrest. I'll bet the only person more happy he had his dash-cam on that night than me right now is my client.

Police officers, based on their “training and experience,” are given unquestioned trust by jurors, prosecutors and (unfortunately) many judges. But they are human and they make mistakes; their view is subjective.

But the dash-cam's eye is objective.

Which is why the dash-cam is this DUI attorney's best friend.

About the Author

Daniel J. Gerl

Dan Gerl is a former prosecutor with over ten years of experience handling DUI, criminal and traffic cases throughout Western Washington. Dan handled hundreds of traffic infractions, avoiding negative impact on driving records over 98% of the time . If you are cited with a traffic or speeding infraction, and you want to keep your record clean, Puget Law Group is your best defense!

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