Why Aren't All DUI Arrests Videotaped?

In past years it was common procedure for Washington State DUI arrests to be recorded on police video. Jurors have come to expect this, based upon TV shows such as “Cops.” Video recording a DUI arrest is good public policy because the video constitutes independent verification of what actually happened during the entire DUI arrest process. For instance, the video will record what was said by all parties present. This can be critical because in a DUI arrest in Washington State, the officer is supposed to inform the driver that the field sobriety tests are voluntary. Failure to so advise could mean that the results of the DUI field sobriety tests cannot be used in court. In addition, the video will record the actual driving observed by the officer that led to the DUI stop in the first place. If it shows that there was not a valid basis for the detention, the case could be dismissed. Further, the video will record the actual performance of the field sobriety tests so that the jury can independently determine how the accused performed on the tests. In this way, there is objective evidence that either supports or undermines the prosecution’s case. Without a video, a trial might be viewed by the jury simply as “the defendant’s word against the officer’s word.”

In the past, when video was widely used, the result was sometimes the dismissal of the case when the video did not confirm what was alleged in the police report.

Most people think that the evidence in a DUI arrest in Washington State will always include a video of the initial stop and DUI field sobriety tests, but the fact is that the majority of Washington State DUI arrests are not recorded. We are seeing fewer police agencies using video today than previously. Take, for instance, the strange case of the City of Bellevue. Although Bellevue is well funded by taxes and other revenues and there was funding in the past for police video recording of Bellevue DUI arrests, today there is no video equipment in any Bellevue DUI police car. Whereas five or ten years ago, a DUI jury trial in Bellevue would almost always include a video of the detention and arrest, today there is no video. In addition, the Washington State Patrol does not routinely record DUI arrests although in the past years there was a push by the patrol to use it in every DUI arrest. Now, video is used in some counties but strangely, it is never used in a King County Dui arrest made by the Washington State Patrol.

Video is objective and the experience in our firm was that sometimes the videos helped the one accused of DUI and sometimes the videos helped the prosecution in a DUI case.

Most citizens are surprised and bewildered when they learn that today, not all DUI arrests are videotaped. Certainly, recording every DUI arrest would resolve any allegation of police bias in the reporting of the results of the DUI field sobriety tests, and jurors would be able to make their own assessment whether the accused passed or failed the tests. The technology today is inexpensive, accurate, efficient and available For instance, the Seattle Police DUI Squad uses video in every DUI arrest unless it is impossible to do so. The SPD DUI Squad video is transferred wirelessly to a backup computer when the DUI Squad police car returns to the police station. The DUI defense attorney has access to a DVD of this video, as does the prosecution. Most importantly, this process allows the jury in a Seattle DUI arrest to view the arrest, rather than just hear an office’s description of it in court. Police agencies that once used video in DUI arrests but that no longer do so will have a hard time justifying to the public the failure to videotape the stop and field sobriety tests incident to a DUI arrest. The public is left to wonder whether the true reason video equipment is no longer used is that it occasionally helps the defense.