In New Jersey, law enforcement is seeking new ways to accumulate evidence when it comes to arrests for driving while intoxicated (DWI). With the new technological advancements arising on a seeming everyday basis, law enforcement is also jumping on the bandwagon to use video evidence to prove their cases and win convictions in arrests. Police vehicles frequently have video devices attached to their dashboards. In addition, officers will also have a microphone to record the interaction between them and individuals they stop on the road.
It is a misconception that video evidence automatically helps the prosecution with their case when there is a DWI arrest. In many instances, the video evidence provides information and evidence that can assist the defense.
The DWI Stop And Investigation
Police officers can’t make a traffic stop for suspicion of DWI based on a whim. There has to be a justifiable reason to make the stop or everything that happens afterward can be subject to dismissal. If the officer sees a driver weaving in and out of traffic, swerving, driving erratically or dangerously, then that is a reason to make the stop. The video camera, however, will capture all of this as well. Prior to video evidence, it was a possibility that in seeking a conviction the officer might exaggerate what was seen. That can’t happen when there is video evidence that might prove the contrary.
When the officer is speaking to the driver, there will be telltale signs of intoxication that the officer will look for. The video camera and microphone won’t be able to capture glassy, bloodshot eyes or the smell of alcohol, but it will record the driver as he or she speaks. If the officer says that the driver was slurring words and that is contradicted by the recorded evidence, it can help the defense.
Video tape evidence can capture the driver as the field sobriety tests are conducted. These tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, Walk and Turn test and the One Leg Stand test. The video evidence will record these tests and if the driver stumbles, but a logical explanation such as an uneven road is visible on tape, the driver might receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intoxication.
Drivers are not legally allowed to refuse to submit to a breath test if requested to take one by a law enforcement officer. This too will be recorded as the officer is required to read from a prepared statement asking the driver to take the test. If the driver answers no or doesn’t reply, then the officer can take that as a Refusal and make the arrest. If there is a dispute as to whether the suspect refused, the video and microphone will help clear that up.
Problems With Audio And Video
The video recorder must be working for it to be of use. In most police cruisers, the video recorder will activate when the officer puts the police lights on and won’t be turned off until the investigation for DWI is completed. There is the possibility, however, that the camera and microphone won’t catch everything that happens as the investigation is taking place. Depending on where the vehicle that the officer is investigating is stopped and the angle it is on, as well as the position of the police vehicle, much can be missed. When an officer gives the field sobriety tests, it’s possible that it will be out of camera shot as these might be given in front of the suspect’s vehicle and the view will be obscured.
There are also times in which the video evidence is destroyed or lost. Conspiracy theorists will surmise that the video and audio disappeared because it had evidence that would prove the suspect’s innocence. It’s quite likely that this does happen. At other times, it’s a simple mistake that is made. If the crux of the case for either the prosecution or defense can be disproved by the videotape evidence and that evidence disappears, it can significantly harm a defendant’s chances of winning acquittal. If the tape is lost, a good defense attorney will immediately call for the charges to be dismissed. Depending on the other evidence, the judge might or might not agree.
The defense has a right to see the evidence – including video and audio – as part of the discovery process. If this is violated, this too can give the defense a reason to request that the entire case be thrown out.
Video, Audio And A DWI Investigation
Video and audio evidence is a good opportunity for a driver facing DWI charges to present a defense. Without a justifiable reason for the stop, the slurred speech and clear evidence of a driver acting as if he or she has had too much to drink that is visible on the videotape, it’s possible that the case might not have much foundation. The chemical tests are hard to dispute, but if the officer is seen on videotape failing to adhere to the 20 minute rule of observing a suspect for that amount of time prior to giving the breathalyzer test, that too could be a reason for dismissal or acquittal. Drivers and their defense attorneys must be cognizant of the possible benefits of video and audio tape. They could lead to a successful defense of DWI charges.