Police Video of DWI Stops
Question: The police caught my DWI stop and arrest on the police car's camera. Can I still win my case?
Answer: Yes. Although we have all seen videos of police pulling over obviously drunk drivers, not all videos turn out to be so helpful for police. Some of the best cases that we have ever taken on involve the use of video by police officers. Very often, the people that police pull over exhibit no signs of intoxication. I'm sometimes a little surprised that they continue to use dashcams, considering how effective they can be for defendants.
We recently had a case where a police officer alleged in his report that he pulled our client over for failure to use his headlights, and then, once he found out our client was drunk, arrested him for DWI. We made a discovery demand, which is a request for information from the district attorney’s office, including a request for the video from the police cruiser's dashcam. When we got the video back, we were quite surprised to find that our client’s car did in fact have headlights on. There was no reason for the stop.
These are the kinds of things that we do with all our cases. We investigate every claim and we build a case to get ready for trial. Don't think that just because your DWI stop and arrest was filmed on video that you have no shot of winning your case. Police cruiser dashcams are often just as helpful to the defendant as the police hope it will be for them. An experienced attorney can use the dashcam video to your advantage.
In some cases we request a video and it isn’t turned over to us. Whether deliberate or not, if law enforcement fails to turn over video made of the defendant, it can result in sanctions against the prosecution. The judge may read the jury an adverse inference charge (meaning s/he tells the jury that because the video was not produced, they can assume that the video would have helped the defendant’s case), or in some cases, the judge can preclude the prosecution from introducing other evidence that would have been confirmed or disproven by the video.
In a case where a defendant was charged with refusing a chemical test, police erased the videotape that they say would have shown the defendant trying to fake the test by not really blowing into the machine. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled that because of the prosecution’s failure to produce the tape, the trial court properly held that any evidence at all of a refusal by the defendant would be precluded from entry into evidence. This is just another example of how videotape can work for a defendant.
If we get a video back from police and we find that it isn’t helpful to our client, then we look for ways to keep it out of evidence. For example, sometimes prosecutors do strange things, like enhance the video with color or text. When they do that, they alter the video and call into question whether a proper foundation can be laid for entering the video into evidence, and whether it will unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant. If the court rules that the enhancement would unfairly prejudice the jury, the videotape stays out of court.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, a criminal defense lawyer experienced in DWI cases can take a look at all the evidence brought by the prosecution, make an evaluation, and look for ways to win your case. Video is just one example of dozens of issues that routinely come up in DWI cases, and the attorneys at Jeannie D. Michalski, LLP are fully capable of examining each one of those issues to find a defense. Call us today at (585) 351-2500 to schedule a free DWI consultation at either our Brighton or Rush office.