We have previously written that when it comes to drunk driving charges, the details matter. Specifically, the defendant may be helped by any detail of the traffic stop in which the officer violated his civil rights or otherwise deviated from required protocol.
While it didn't occur here in West Virginia, a judge's recent ruling demonstrates just how important protocol is in a DUI case. In one Virginia county, four DUI cases involving the same officer were dismissed because the officer failed to record the defendants' field sobriety tests.
In Fairfax County, police officers are required to use both audio and video recording devices during traffic stops (dash-cams), and are strongly encouraged to film sobriety tests. They are also supposed to test their recording equipment prior to starting each shift.
According to news sources, at least one of the traffic stops was partially recorded, with the field sobriety test being conducted to the side of what the camera was filming. Some of the defendants shared accounts of the stop that were quite different than details provided by the officer. Neither the officer's nor the defendants' accounts could be verified by dash-cam video or audio.
Defense attorneys argued that the failure to record key parts of the stops "deprived their clients of potentially exculpatory evidence." In other words, the recordings could have helped defendants bolster their case.
When the general public reads about cases like these, there are often complaints that suspects "got off on a technicality." But it's important to remember that in any criminal case, defendants are to be presumed innocent until or unless they can be proven guilty. When police officers or prosecutors make mistakes that compromise their ability to prove guilt, the fair and reasonable course of action is to continue presuming that suspects are innocent.
Source: The Washington Post, "4 drunk driving cases dismissed after officer failed to record sobriety tests," Justin Jouvenal, May 11, 2015