Recently I represented a client who was charged with DUI in the Seattle area after a detention and arrest by a local police officer. A review of the police report led me to believe that this could be a difficult case. All the "signs" police are trained to look for were in this report: Weaving, speeding, bad balance, horizontal gaze nystagmus, strong odor of alcohol, flushed face, bloodshot eyes, and more. I later learned in a pretrial motion that this officer had years of experience making DUI arrests in various jurisdictions and that he had extensive Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training. He was no stranger to the courtroom, having faced many defense counsel in trial. He was confident, even cocky in his courtroom demeanor.

On the defense side were two witnesses, neither of who were with the accused for the entire evening, and, of course, the accused himself. From the start my client said he was not guilty, that he had refused the breath test because he did not trust the machine, and that he requested a blood test. The evidence was hotly contested on these points in trial. (By the way, I generally recommend taking, not refusing the breath test, but that is the subject of extensive writing elsewhere throughout our website and this blog.)

Several key members of our firm participated with me in the preparation of this case for trial. When the trial began, I was prepared with transcripts of prior testimony of this officer in hearings connected with this case, police manuals pertaing to training and procedures, and photographs/maps of the area of driving and arrest. Audio CDs of the prior hearings were in my briefcase in case the witness should deny the validity or accuracy of the transcripts of prior testimony.

During trial, the officer revealed himself to be extremely confident and at ease in the courtoom - too much at ease, perhaps. He responded to a question from the prosecutor in a manner that was disrespectful and he interrupted the judge on one occasion. On cross examination, he was a difficult witness, but during the examination it was revealed that he had not told the jury the whole story regarding his DUI knowledge. He left the jury with the false impression that he had extensive knowledge due to his DRE training but although he had completed the academic portionof the training, he could not even name the basic twelve steps of the DRE protocol. He did not follow correct procedures for the nystagmus test, which rendered the test invalid, but until this was brought out on cross examination the jury was left with the false impression that the test was validly performed. There were a few other instances of such behavior but it was clear midway through the trial that the defense would argue that the officer's credibilty was suspect. Let me say right here that the vast majority of officers I have faced in trial have not conducted themselves in this fashion and they bring credit to their profession. However in this case I argued to the jury that this case had become a referendum about the trial process. Would the jury approve of such disrespect for the Oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth while on the stand? Should they give any credibility to the testimony of a witness who is willing to leave them with half truths and false impressions? The verdict of acquittal by this Seattle jury in this case was more than a judgment about whether the DUI charge was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a statement by the jury that above all, the integrity of our judicial system must remain inviolate.

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