DUI Evidence: Video – The Gold Standard
Most DUI arrests that occur the Detroit-area, meaning anywhere in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, are filmed by the police car video camera. Obtaining and evaluating this evidence is a basic, fundamental first step required to properly handle a DUI case. Statistically, more than 1 out of 7 Michigan DUI charges are dismissed in court. The only way for that to happen is to make it happen. That’s why I get the in-car video in almost every DUI case I handle.
Here, it is important to point out the difference between challenging the evidence to get the case dismissed (or, as some say, “thrown out of court”) and going to trial. Trials are losing propositions. Opinion aside, a quick look at the numbers tells the real story. Michigan DUI law requires that every year, the Michigan State Police conduct what is called the “Annual Drunk Driving Audit.” Every arrest is followed, and every single Judge in the state has his or her cases “audited” so that the outcome of every case is documented:
- In 2012, there were 52,770 DUI and alcohol related arrests in Michigan
- 7006 of those cases were dismissed by a Judge for “merit,” or a good reason
- 41 went to trial and were found “not guilty.”
That means that there is a better than 1 out of 12 chance that the evidence in any DUI can be successfully challenged, and the case “knocked out.” It also means that for any case not “thrown out of court,” the chances of going to trial and winning are horribly low: 1 in 1,287 (.03%).
For all the work that goes into minimizing the consequences of a DUI charge, nothing is better than just beating it outright. Imagine not having to worry about losing your driver’s license, fines and costs, probation, alcohol testing, classes, counseling, and all the other expensive and inconvenient things that are real life, potential outcomes in a Greater Detroit drunk driving conviction. While I’m sure things are substantially similar beyond the Detroit area, I specifically limit my DUI practice to the courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Rather than blanket the internet with a “state-wide” sales pitch, by concentrating my DUI practice locally, I can offer the experience of having been in the court where your case is pending countless times, and knowing how things are done there.
That kind of experience matters, because even with things like getting the police car video, different localities have different requirements. Some police departments will accept a lawyer’s request, copy the video, and send it out along with an invoice. Other departments will copy it first, determine the cost, and then send a bill, releasing the video only when the invoice has been paid. Still others require a minimum deposit, and will then send the video along with an invoice for the balance. Weeks can be lost in trying to get the video if proper procedure isn’t followed in any particular place.
In a perfect world, the police car video will show everything relevant to the DUI arrest. In the real world, however, that doesn’t always happen.
First, as your DUI lawyer, I want to know why you were pulled over. This is almost always the first “line of defense,” and what we hope can be seen on the video. The police report may indicate, for example, that a person crossed the centerline, or was weaving, but the video may contradict that. One thing is certain – you’ll never know unless you study the video.
This is one important difference between a real DUI practice and a “bargain” operation. At the better (higher) end of the spectrum of DUI lawyers, obtaining and viewing the police video is automatic, and part of what you pay for. The very idea that it could be “extra” is a red flag and a warning about the approach and understanding of any lawyer who thinks that way. Proceeding without examining the video is kind of like a surgeon trying to repair a compound fracture without bothering to look at the x-ray.
Beyond the reason or reasons given by the police for the traffic stop, the video should (but doesn’t always) capture the initial conversation between the police officer and the driver. If the office’s account of the conversation as reflected in the police report conflicts with really happened as confirmed by the video, that kind of discrepancy may be helpful in discrediting anything else he or she reports, particularly if such things are not captured by the video. Once credibility is called into question, it’s hard to restore it.
In most cases, the all-important field sobriety tests can be seen and heard clearly on the video. Unlike the traffic stop, which can involve filming a car at varying distances without the ability to change the focus, field sobriety tests are usually done right in front of the patrol car only a few feet from the camera. Not surprisingly, the police will sometimes conduct these tests a just a bit outside the angle of the lens, because nothing can kill a DUI case faster than direct video evidence of a person passing the field sobriety tests. Again, however, we come back the proposition that you’ll never know unless you get the video.
Dash-cam video can be a powerful tool in a DUI case, and I believe that it should be obtained and reviewed in every DUI case. That's why I do it.