Using Video Evidence to Defend DUI Cases

The social stigma associated with a DUI conviction has a lasting impact on people adjudged guilty of the offense. Even with a blood alcohol content (BAC) measurement barely above the legal limit, the “drunk driver” label can haunt the offender for years.

Preventing such a conviction requires the help of an experienced DUI defense lawyer who knows how to turn “every piece of evidence” in their client’s favor. 

 

Video Evidence Can Be Your Best Defense 

 

Evidence collected or developed at the scene of an alleged crime comes in many different forms. The most common type of evidence used in courtrooms is witness testimony, often backed up by (or damaged by) the witness’s previous written statements and reports. 

 

In a DUI prosecution, if the driver decided to take a breathalyzer test, the test results are admitted into evidence if a proper legal foundation is presented first. That means the court needs to be convinced that the preparatory steps and procedures required to support the breathalyzer machine’s reliability were performed properly. But none of that happens until the police present justification for stopping the motorist. 

 

Why Did the Police Stop the Motorist? (Video Can Show Traffic Stop Was Unreasonable) 

 

No evidence is admitted against the motorist in a DUI case until the police provide their grounds for stopping the defendant’s vehicle. Police officers can rely on clear traffic law violations (passing a stop sign, illegal turn, etc.) as grounds for the stop. In many cases, the officer reports a driver’s conduct as being more suspicious than the dashcam video shows. 

 

An officer might say the defendant “was swerving from lane to lane.” But when the video shows the one tire of the defendant’s car barely crossing a lane stripe. Video is objective, unbiased, and reliable.  

 

Bodycam and Dashboard Video Reveal the Driver’s True Behavior (Exposes Officer’s Exaggeration) 

 

After justifying the traffic stop, the officer must then tell the court why they suspected the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or another chemical substance. The police are not permitted to ask a driver to perform field sobriety tests without some basis for believing the driver’s normal faculties are impaired. 

 

Typically, the officer will report that the driver emitted a strong odor of alcohol, that the driver’s speech was slurred, and that they seemed confused. They may even state that the driver “fumbled around” with the license and registration before handing them to the officer. 

 

The officer’s bodycam will either support those assertions or contradict them. Here’s what the bodycam video and audio can tell the defense: 

 

  • The defendant’s speech was clear and not slurred. 
  • The defendant was alert and responsive, not confused. 
  • Did the defendant drop their license? If not, then they didn’t “fumble” it. 
  • Did the defendant admit that they’d been drinking? 

 

Video Recording of the Roadside Standardized Field Sobriety Tests 

 

Field sobriety tests are used by law enforcement to provide evidence that is not entirely based on their opinion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed the tests by conducting extensive studies to determine what physical limitations a person experiences when they have alcohol at different levels in their bloodstream.  

 

Police receive specialized training on how to administer these “standardized” field sobriety tests (SFSTs). Part of their training includes how to instruct the driver to perform the test, then observing the driver’s performance, and finally, scoring how well the driver performed.  

 

The prosecution hopes the video will support the officer’s written report about what occurred at the scene of the traffic stop and how the driver did on the SFSTs. But the video shows more than how the driver did.  

 

The video reveals whether the officer made significant errors when instructing the driver, when observing the driver perform the tests, or when scoring the driver. The SFSTs are designed to be administered precisely. Errors and deviations from the test’s protocols render the results invalid or unreliable. 

 

Video of the Breathalyzer Procedure 

 

Video of the activity at the police station is also very valuable to an experienced DUI defense lawyer when protecting the defendant’s rights. 

 

Florida uses the Intoxilyzer 8000 model alcohol testing machine. It’s a highly sensitive infrared spectroscopy device that must be calibrated and operated according to precise protocols. In addition to the actual operation of the machine, the law requires that the officer read a special breathalyzer rights form to a suspect and that the test subject understand those rights. 

 

Another significant requirement is the continued, uninterrupted observation of the DUI suspect for at least 20 minutes before they begin the breath testing process. If the person being tested belches, eats Vicks cough drops, eats, drinks, or chews gum, the test results could be affected. Belching up some of the beer you consumed earlier in the evening will cause a higher concentration of alcohol in the breath you blow into the breathalyzer machine. 

 

Video Reveals Other Significant Circumstances for the Defense 

 

The value of dashcam and bodycam video to a DUI defense lawyer is hard to overstate. So much is revealed by reviewing the video that every important detail, even those impossible for an officer to include in their report, is visible to the viewer. 

 

  • Were there stones or loose gravel on the ground during the driver’s performance of the SFSTs?  
  • What were the lighting conditions? (Could the driver see the ground on which they were standing? 
  • Were the lights from the police cruiser and the officer’s flashlight blinding the driver? 
  • Were weather conditions a factor in the SFSTs? 
  • Was other traffic noise or passing cars distracting to either the suspect or the officer? 

 

Rely on Experienced DUI Defense Lawyers — Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law 

 

Defending a client facing a DUI charge is unlike most other criminal defense assignments. DUI defense calls for the attorney to be familiar with the requirements of calibrating an Intoxilyzer 8000, as well as how each field sobriety test is supposed to be administered and scored. The skills of a DUI defense lawyer are only developed after years of practice.  

 

At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, our certified defense attorneys concentrate on DUI defense and have years of experience. Call us today for a case review; 813-280-1244. 

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