In a recent Florida DUI case (not in Jacksonville), a defendant charged with driving under the influence of alcohol had his case thrown out of court because the police officer failed to turn on the camera in his police car during the DUI stop, in violation of police department policy.
Like many police officers do, particularly specialized DUI police officers, this officer had a video camera in his vehicle designed to record encounters with suspects. In DUI cases, the cameras are particularly helpful to judges and juries because the evidence supporting a DUI arrest is so subjective and based on the observations of alleged impairment by the police officer. In just about every DUI arrest since the history of time, police officers say that the defendant had slurred speech, had bloodshot eyes, was swaying and failed the field sobriety exams. In-vehicle cameras can help a judge or jury determine whether those routine claims by police officers that appear in every arrest report are true in a particular case.
In this DUI case, the officer had a camera in his vehicle but did not turn it on to record his DUI investigation and subsequent arrest. When asked, the police officer merely said he chose not to turn it on. No other reason was given. The policy of his police department provided that the camera should have been turned on. Because the police officer failed to comply with the department policy for no apparent reason, and the defendant was deprived of video evidence of the DUI, which is often a good source of information for the defense, the judge dismissed the DUI charge.
It is important to note that this DUI case did not take place in Jacksonville, Florida and Duval County judges are not bound by this decision. However, it is instructive to see the importance of the DUI video and arguments that can be made when police officers fail to turn on the video camera when they should. We have seen countless videos where a person arrested for DUI looks fine on the video although the police officer’s report tells a much different story. Because of that, the DUI video is often a very effective tool for the DUI defense. When a DUI video is not available, we always argue that a video would have been beneficial to the defendant, but there also may be more that can be done to protect the rights of someone arrested for DUI when important evidence is missing.