Virginia officer fails to record sobriety tests: Cases dismissed

An officer’s failure to record sobriety tests gives four men the ability to successfully defend their DUI charges.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving's most recent numbers show that over 27,000 people in Virginia have been convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol. For people living in Fairfax and elsewhere, a DUI conviction comes with severe penalties such as fines, jail time, court costs and license suspension/revocation.

Many DUI convictions are based on evidence that includes breath test results, field sobriety tests and officers' descriptions of the driver's appearance and behaviors. The American Automobile Association states that one tool that has proven especially helpful to law enforcement agencies is the use of video and audio recording in DUI stops. The recorded evidence can be used to back up the officer's conduct during the stop, the administration of sobriety tests and to prove that the officer had a just reason for stopping the vehicle.

No recorded evidence

While recording a DUI stop can often lead to a conviction, the policy that requires officers to use video and audio as part of the process can also profit the person accused. This happened recently in four cases of drunk driving within Fairfax County. According to The Washington Post, the same officer pulled over four different men and then failed to record the sobriety tests he conducted on them.

The officer claimed that he did not move the dash camera to focus on the men because he did not want to go back to the patrol car and leave the men alone. He also stated that he needed a flatter surface on which to conduct the tests and that is why the camera shows them moving out of view. Additionally, the officer had apparently turned off the audio recorder. It should be noted that officers are not required by department policy to video record sobriety tests or keep people within view of the cameras, but it is recommended. However, they are required to make sure that the audio and video recording equipment is working.

Conflicting accounts

The lack of recorded evidence was used as a defense by the men, who also claimed that the officer's account of the stop was not accurate. The combination of these two factors apparently convinced the judge that the men's claim had merit. There was no mention of chemical testing evidence so it appears to have been the men's words against those of the officer's. Without the audio recording or a video recording to back up the officer's statements, the men were able to successfully defend themselves against the drunk driving charges.

When people in Fairfax are arrested and charged with DUI, they have the legal right to question whether law enforcement acted as they should. Therefore, they may find it of benefit to meet with a defense attorney.

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