When it comes to DUI arrests in Birmingham, defendants expect that their own criminal records are going to come under scrutiny. At the very least, any convictions you have for prior DUI offenses are going to become an aggravating factor if you are convicted once again.
What you may not realize, though, is that the background of the law enforcement officer may end up being of equal importance.
One of the primary assets upon which officers rely in court is the strength of their word. Their testimony tends to be given more weight than that of others because they are deemed to be highly credible witnesses, as they have been sworn to uphold the law.
However, anytime an officer falters from that commitment, any cases upon which he or she was working may suffer.
For example, an officer who was the subject of an internal investigation and found to be guilty of lying is subject to having the credibility of his testimony questioned in future depositions and trials.
In some instances, prosecutors have been forced to make the call to drop cases altogether due to a lack of officer credibility.
That was recently the case for dozens of DUI defendants in Southwest Florida, where the alleged misdeeds of a single sergeant resulted in prosecutors dropping all of his active cases. The state attorneys office there is also reviewing another 40 cases, and it’s quite possible that even those who were already convicted may have a shot at a successful appeal on the same basis.
Here’s what happened:
An attorney representing a radio personality in a contentious defamation trial with one of his on-air rivals was arrested back in January for DUI. However, as details about the arrest began to emerge, it was revealed that the arrest may have been a set-up, with a paralegal for the other side buying the attorney drinks and flirting, while her boss contacted the sergeant and informed him that the liquored-up lawyer would soon be leaving the bar.
The sergeant says he was just following a tip on a DUI, but extensive communication between him and the boss at the other law firm makes it seem as if the motivations may have gone deeper.
The sergeant, a 19-year veteran, was fired. The internal affairs investigation revealed he had misused his authority, most likely destroyed evidence and lied about the DUI set-up scandal.
In addition to the case that sparked the internal investigation, the sergeant was a key witness in at least 12 pending DUI cases. He was the “stop officer,” the one who had made the initial traffic stop leading to the arrest.
As one defense lawyer put it: “There isn’t a prosecutor in the land who would go forward with a witness like that.”
Maybe so, but not all officer misdeeds are so publicized. Bottom line is you never know what’s going to happen in your case, or to officers involved. Another great reason to plead not guilty and seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Dozen DUI cases dropped in fallout over fired Tampa police sergeant, Oct. 8, 2013, By Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times
More Blog Entries:
Pennies Under the Tongue, and other DUI Myths, Sept. 21, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog