May 8, 2010

Firefighters, DUI and Video tape

We recently resolved a DUI arrest in Howard County against an aggressive State's Attorney who enjoys litigating every case s/he gets their hands on! This firefighter, a State employee who risks his life for the benefit of others was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a simple traffic infraction and field sobriety exercises performed on the street. The charging document had all the normal [magic] language in it (cut and pasted from some other charging document as the gender is wrong half the time in these documents) accusing the firefighter of driving drunk. There was the smell of alcohol, slurred speech and poor coordination on the fields, all the normal stuff that makes the prosecutor gitty as a school child and permits the judge to find the defendant guilty! Fortunately, the arrest was also videotaped so we could see everything that happened in "real time" [Jack Bauer time]

We order the video tape in our extensive discovery to see what really happened here because half the time the video and the cut and pasted statement of facts are in stark contrast to what really happened- starting from the gender description and going on from there [you would be surprised how many officers have difficulty telling a man from a woman in their statement of facts]. We receive the video and sit down and watch it with the client. We watched it again, and then a third time and aside from the video showing our client and his car being stopped, there is nothing in the video that supports what Mr. deputy police officer put in his statement of facts.

This is not the first time this travesty of justice has occurred, it happens with some regularity and its very unfortunate because judges and jurors listen intently to the exaggerations and lies of some law enforcement officers and are all too happy to convict unwitting defendants of DUI. I once had a case in Anne Arundel County that we got dismissed and I then proceeded to lecture the young arresting officer in the hallway about this type of crap and not to do it again lest he get in trouble and lose his job. Without the video tape as proof, there is sometimes little that can be done to protect the citizen against bogus trumped up charges. Most seasoned officers know what to write in their reports and how to testify in court and if there is no video tape, the cop has a high likelihood of winning and the Defendant and the people of this State loose. The citizens of Maryland loose because every Defendant who is wrongly convicted of DUI as a result of lies and exaggerations and sloppy police work is a threat to the liberty of all citizens in this State. You must remember, if this behavior can happen to them, it can easily happen to you on the way home from dinner with your spouse after a single glass of wine.

Did you know that the published legal limit for alcohol in Maryland is .08? Did you know that you can be arrested and convicted for DUI/DWI for blowing a .07, .06, .05 or lower? Bet you didn't know that; the Government doesn't publish this little tid-bit of information on their overhead roadsides on interstate 695, that but the police know it and this information helps their DUI arrest numbers and annual fiscal budget.

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