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Court Sides with Police Testimony over Video Evidence in DUI Case

Bruce McAdam [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)], via FlickrThe question of whether an appellate court could reverse a DUI conviction based on its own interpretation of the evidence recently came before the Indiana Supreme Court, demonstrating the critical importance of challenging police testimony as early as possible. The defendant argued that video footage from a sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle camera contradicted the deputy’s testimony, making the traffic stop unconstitutional and requiring the court to dismiss the case. The trial court disagreed, but the appellate court found the video evidence compelling. The state supreme court affirmed the verdict ruled in Robinson v. Indiana, ruling that it should defer to the trial court’s findings of fact in the absence of a significant constitutional concern.

A sheriff’s deputy testified that he pulled the defendant over after observing her vehicle veer off the right side of the road twice at about 1:00 a.m. on October 15, 2011. A video camera in the deputy’s car recorded the stop. The defendant reportedly failed three field sobriety tests, and she admitted to drinking one beer and to having marijuana on her person. A chemical test at the jail showed blood alcohol content of 0.09 percent, just above the legal limit. Prosecutors charged her with DUI and several other offenses.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the traffic stop and to dismiss the case. Two U.S. Supreme Court cases, 1968’s Terry v. Ohio and 1996’s Ornelas v. United States, have established that the Fourth Amendment requires “reasonable suspicion” of a crime in order to stop someone’s vehicle. The defendant alleged that the video footage from the deputy’s car showed that her vehicle never veered off the road like the deputy claimed, and that he therefore never had reasonable suspicion.

The trial court denied the motion, although it acknowledged that it could not tell from the video if the defendant actually left the road or just veered onto the white fog line. It cited Indiana v. McCaa, a 2012 Indiana Court of Appeals case, which held that reasonable suspicion was established by evidence that a defendant’s car veered off the road twice.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order and vacated the DUI conviction, but the state supreme court reinstated it. The key difference was in how the two courts interpreted their standard of review. Both courts cited an Indiana case, Lindsey v. Indiana, in establishing that they “will not reweigh the evidence” and will consider “conflicting evidence in favor of the trial court’s ruling.” This is known as an “abuse of discretion” standard. Both courts also stated that they must consider “uncontested evidence favorable to the defendant.”

The appellate court stated that they review the actual determination of reasonable suspicion de novo, meaning they may conduct their own review of the issues. The supreme court, however, stated that the only question subject to de novo review is whether an actual constitutional violation occurred. While the appellate court extensively reviewed the facts of the case and distinguished them from those in McCaa, the supreme court gave considerable deference to the trial court’s findings of fact in affirming the verdict.

If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney, who can advise you of your rights and help you plan the best possible defense. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated 100% of his law practice to DUI defense. Please contact us today online or at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

Aggravated Assault Charges Allowed to Proceed by Pennsylvania Court in DUI Case, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, April 10, 2014

Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms DUI Conviction, Demonstrating the Importance of Preserving Error at Trial, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 20, 2014

Man Arrested, Charged with DUI Despite 0.00 Percent BAC, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 14, 2014

Photo credit: Bruce McAdam [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.