A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Video Evidence in Washington, D.C. DUI Cases
Police reports rarely paint a flattering picture of a D.C. DUI defendant. They usually describe a stumbling drunk who can’t keep his or her balance while walking from point A to point B. The officer will also highlight all the things the defendant did wrong during the one-legged stand and walk and turn tests, including raising his arms, stepping off the line, or putting his foot down repeatedly. The officer will then regurgitate that report at trial, in an attempt to show that the DUI suspect was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While your Washington, D.C. DUI lawyer will cross-examine the police officer, and do his best to poke wholes in the officer;s testimony, evidence that directly contradicts that tesimony is much more helpful.
Occasionally, that contradictory evidence comes in the form of video. Video can come from a few different sources, including the police station where the defendant is booked, street cameras located at the scene of arrest, or since the fall of 2014, body cameras worn by some D.C. police officers. Finding out whether video exists, and getting it from the government is one of the battles your DUI attorney will fight for you. And it often is a battle, since defense requests for the video are often met with denials that any video exists, or that it can be obtained. While station-house video will usually be turned over without too much effort, getting street camera video is another story.
Your D.C. DUI lawyer should, as early as possible, notify the prosecutor that you want the governmnt to preserve all of the video evidence that exists. This should preferably be done at arraignment, or as soon as you’ve hired an attorney, and should be in writing. Before I know whether video evidence exists in a DUI case, I hand the government a letter requesting that they preserve it. This accomplishes two things: 1) it sends a message that your DUI lawyer knows what he is doing, and hopefully spurs the prosecutor to take the necessary efforts to preserve the video; and 2) it gives your lawyer an excellent argument that your case should be dismissed if the government drops the ball and fails to preserve this important evidence.
If video does exist, and is obtained by your DUI attorney, it may paint a very different picture of a defendant’s behavior than the one drawn by the arresting officer. Instead of a stumbling, uncooperative drunk person, it may show a defendant who stood upright, walked without stumbling, and generally showed no signs of intoxication. This is valuable evidence. Of course, in certain cases video of a D.C. DUI defendant can be a curse rather than a blessing. Sometimes a defendant appears just as described by the officer, and the video only serves to bolster his testimony. But most often, the video obtained is of a fairly poor quality, and does not either make or break your case. Nevertheless, holding the government to its responsibility to provide this evidence may result in your D.C. DUI case being dismissed, or cause the prosecutor to extend a more favorable plea offer.
It remains to be seen whether the D.C. body camera pilot program will become permanent, and how this will affect Washington, D.C. DUI cases. While I have not yet seen it, I’m told that video from the body cameras is of a much higher quality than station house or street cameras. Whether this helps or hurts DUI defendants will likely differ depending on the case.
Whether video evidence exists in your case or not, you want your DWI attorney to aggressively pursue all the discovery you are entitled to.
JPMLegal pursues all DUI cases aggressively, and will always hold the government to its responsibilities. If you have been arrested for DUI in Washington, D.C. or northern Virginia, contact JPMLegal for a free office consultation.