When you’re pulled over for driving under the influence (DUI), the police officer who accused you must have had reasonable cause to stop you and evidence to charge you with a crime. If he can’t justify the claim or prove that you were intoxicated, a DUI charge will most likely be dismissed in court.
Unfortunately for a local Fairfax officer (and fortunately for those accused), his failure to follow procedure and record his DUI suspects has resulted in four separate DUI cases being dismissed due to lack of evidence.
What was the officer’s mistake? His poor use of patrol camera and microphone.
Poor Recording Leads to Reasonable Doubt
The Fairfax police department requires that video equipment be evaluated before every shift, to make sure it is working properly and is correctly placed on a repositioning 360-degree swivel mount. These cameras are meant not only to protect officers—video can show exactly what occurred during stand-offs, police brutality claims, etc.—but also to help provide valuable evidence by recording field sobriety tests (FSTs), suspect cooperation, and other details. Therefore, Fairfax police are encouraged to position their cameras to record the area where they’ll be performing FSTs or questioning suspects.
Although repositioning the cameras and recording isn’t required by law, as a result of recent police brutality accusations in the media, the community has made it clear that it wants cameras to be used. If a police officer chooses not to record his stops, his arrests are treated with a degree of suspicion. Failure to record the arrest process also weakens the case by introducing reasonable doubt; without recorded evidence, the case comes down to a “he said, she said” argument.
An unnamed Fairfax officer witnessed this firsthand as four of his DUI cases were dismissed by a county judge. The judge noted that the defendants were deprived of valuable evidence that could have helped their cases as a result of the officer repeatedly failing to do the following:
- Record proper audio of the traffic stops. This deprived defendants of the ability to show cooperation, as well as to capture what the officer said (or didn’t say) to the driver.
- Place the suspects in front of the camera during the field sobriety tests. Rather than adjusting the camera or having the suspects perform the test in sight of the camera, the officer walked the suspects just out of the camera’s focal range.
- Check his equipment before the shift. The officer admitted that he didn’t check to see if his microphone was working correctly before going on duty.
As a result of these failures, the defendants were forced into a situation where it was their word against his—but because of the officer’s manipulation of the scene, they had nothing to show. The judge agreed that there was absolutely no reason that the officer shouldn’t have properly used his equipment, and therefore decided that the cases should be dismissed.
In addition, the fact that the same situations occurred on multiple occasions (with multiple dismissals) has raised some red flags within the Fairfax Police Department. A Fairfax County police spokesman said they have yet to investigate the details of these cases in question, so they are unable to comment. However, although they’re not required, officers are now strongly urged to get video of field sobriety tests to prevent further issues.