Police Not Responsible for Failing to Record Audio of DUI Stop

 Posted on July 31, 2014 in Criminal Defense

dash cam, discovery, police, appeals court, Illinois criminal lawyer, Chicago criminal defense attorneyIn an age of mass surveillance, it is no surprise police officers routinely record traffic stops using dashboard cameras. These cameras often provide valuable evidence in drunk driving cases. The proper use of such evidence was the subject of a recent decision by an Illinois appeals court.

Specifics of the Appeal

The appeal dealt with a trial judge's decision to exclude all evidence obtained from a police dashboard camera during a 2012 traffic stop. Police in the Cook County village of Orland Park stopped a driver going approximately 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. According to the officers, the driver “had glassy/watery eyes, his breath smelled of alcohol, and he stated that he drank two beers.” The officers administered a number of field sobriety tests, which the driver failed.

A police dashboard camera recorded the entire stop, including the sobriety tests. During pre-trial discovery, the driver requested the recording. The prosecution complied, but the defense discovered the recording was limited to video. Apparently, the officers “forgot to activate” the device responsible for recording audio before approaching the driver.

The trial court agreed with the driver this amounted to a violation of discovery rules. The judge barred prosecutors from introducing any video or testimony related to the sobriety tests due to the lack of any audio. Prosecutors appealed this decision.

A three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court sided with prosecutors and reversed the trial judge's decision in an opinion issued on June 30. The appeals panel said the trial judge abused his discretion in imposing discovery sanctions on the prosecution. While courts may sanction prosecutors for destroying evidence requested by a defendant in discovery, there is no such penalty when prosecutors decline to turn over evidence that never existed in the first place.

Here, police turned over what they had, which was the video-only recording of the sobriety tests. This complied with the driver's discovery request. The fact that police failed to record the audio—and there was no evidence that this was done intentionally or negligently—meant there was simply nothing more to turn over to the defense. The appellate court said the trial could therefore proceed, and the prosecution could introduce the video recording and testimony related to the sobriety tests.

Defending Your Interests

Although the defendant lost his appeal, this case illustrates the importance of working with an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney. Even a seemingly routine DUI case may raise serious questions about the propriety of police and prosecutorial conduct. If you or someone you know faces any type of criminal charge, it is essential you have someone zealously defending your interests. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you have any questions.
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