In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, examining the evidence is a critical step in every drunk driving (OWI) case I handle. Can you imagine a doctor or dentist treating a patient without first conducting a thorough examination? It’s essentially the same thing for a lawyer to properly (emphasis on proper) represent someone facing a DUI charge. As much as any doctor, dentist or lawyer will want to know what the problem is, he or she will also want to know what it is not. In the context of a DUI arrest, a driver’s contact with the police and what follows, including the stop (was the car, in fact, swerving? Did it cross the yellow line? Did the driver commit some other traffic infraction?), the field sobriety tests, and the arrest itself aren’t just important to the case, they essentially make up the case. As a result, it is standard practice in my office to obtain and review the video evidence in almost every drinking and driving case that crosses my desk. In this short article, I want to make clear why it’s always prudent to obtain and review the police car dash-cam video.
As a general rule, there is never a good reason to NOT get a copy of the in-car police video. Many “cut rate” legal operations and court appointed lawyers skip this step, principally because they don’t have enough time to do it, especially for what they’re (often not) paid. Bargain, flat-fee law offices make their money on the quick turnover of cases, and court appointed lawyers are expected to wrap up a case in just a few minutes after meeting their assigned client in court. When you hire a good lawyer, however, you should be paying for him or her to do everything necessary to insure the best outcome in your case without wasting time or money on things that won’t. Reviewing the dash cam video is always the smart thing to do. Moreover, even in those cases (the majority of them, really) where the dash-cam video does not reveal some catastrophic police mistake that will get the case tossed out of court, or otherwise demonstrate the the driver was not over the legal limit, just knowing that to be the case provides clarity and removes any doubt as to the best way to proceed.
Sometimes the dash-cam video can lay a golden egg, and be used as the basis to challenge the evidence. Whatever else, DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves, and one thing is for sure: you will never find a reason for a case to be “knocked out” without looking for it, first. The mindset with which the evidence is approached has a lot to do with this. If you watched almost any DUI dash-cam video with the instruction to find confirmation or evidence that the subject was driving drunk, you’d probably find some. Because you were focused on confirming something, you would almost automatically overlook anything that indicated the contrary. This is known as “conformation bias.” As a DUI lawyer, I have to assume a contrary conformation bias perspective, namely, that my client did NOT do anything wrong, or anything too wrong, and that if his or her performance on any of the field sobriety tests was something less than optimal, there is a good and rational explanation for it. Even approaching these videos with an “open mind” isn’t good enough; they have to be watched with an eye to finding those things that help the client.