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Changing Law Enforcement Methods for Apprehending DWI Suspects

by Seth Azria on 3/18/2016

DWI Roadblocks an Police Targeting DWI

One of the approaches that we are seeing when it comes to apprehending DWI suspects is a stronger mandate for officers to specifically target people who may be drinking and driving. Roadblocks, regular patrols dedicated to DWI enforcement and increased training regarding proper arrest of suspected DWI offenders are just a few of the ways the police are adapting to the volume of DWI offenders.    Indeed, there seems to be a great deal of increased pressure on officers to catch people who may be guilty of DWI. Officers I speak with from various agencies are regularly informing me how there is more emphasis being placed on catching intoxicated drivers. This is unlikely to ever be reversed. I also hear from officers how there is an increased training being emphasized in their respective agencies.

I think that the trend of more officers receiving specialized training with respect to the proper handling of a DWI stop, from the administration of the field sobriety tests to filling out the police reports is an excellent one. The guide that officers currently use lists twenty-four behaviors which officers are told to look out for when it comes to determining if someone has been drinking and driving—i.e., crossing the yellow line, changes in the speed of the car. Additionally, the officer needs to be well versed in the administration of the various tests for alcohol presence, both the screening test as well as the chemical breath test.

I tell my New York DWI clients that there are two things we can do if they are charged with a DWI—we can litigate or we can negotiate. You litigate when you think there is a good reason to do so—i.e., was it an improper stop; were the field sobriety tests improperly administered; are there issues with respect to the driver’s BAC? For instance, as a judge I see a growing trend of attorneys who are more frequently challenging the breath testing devices that are used in these cases and their effectiveness. When I first became an Assistant District Attorney, attorneys seemed to rarely challenge the reliability of the science underlying the breath test machines used in these cases. Now, however, many DWI defense attorneys are challenging everything from the calibration of the breath-testing units to the level and breadth of the arresting officer’s training specific to alcohol related offenses.

For example, I recently had a jury trial in my court in which a repeat DWI offender was found not guilty after trial. A number of the jurors evidently informed the defense attorney and the prosecutor they reached a finding of not-guilty because they thought that the police officer’s conduct simply did not rise to the level of good police work. In that case, the defendant admitted that he had been drinking and driving, but he was able to beat a conviction because of the fact that the officer did not seem to be educated enough to support his position at trial. The defense attorney repeatedly asked the arresting officer pointed questions about his training (or in this case lack of training) with regard to the field sobriety tests and clues that he observed and his administration of the breath tests. The officer was poorly prepared for trial evidently because he continually had to admit under cross-examination to errors or omissions that he made during the arrest. The defense attorney did a skilled cross examination of the officer and he was able to get the officer to admit that his training in the administration of field sobriety tests had occurred 16 years prior to the trial, with virtually no DWI specific education since that time. The jury deliberated for less than a half hour and the defendant left a free man.

This article was adapted from partner David C. Bruffett's chapter in "Inside the Minds: Strategies for Defending DWI Cases in New York, 2015 ed. published by Aspatore Books. Please call (315) 364-1155 or email us for a free consultation with Mr. Bruffett about your DWI case.


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