Why aren't all DUI investigations videotaped? Perhaps it's because police departments across the country are afraid that such a practice might result in more jury acquittals than is presently the case.
The following story, which appears in the blog of the Criminal Lawyers' Association in Harris County Texas, addresses this very issue:
You might think that the Houston Police Department would be eager to use video equipment to record DWI arrests. After all, the video will provide strong evidence of the defendant's physical and mental faculties at the time of the arrest. And if there's a video you can more easily protect yourself against complaints of misconduct. So if you were a police department making righteous arrests and not mistreating people, you'd be eager to have every stage of the arrest documented on video. Right?
So why is it that [Houston Police Department] DWI Task Force administrator Paul Lassalle is writing to Warren Diepraam and Eric Kugler of the Harris County District Attorney's Office and asking:
Now, [the law] states that we have to purchase and maintain the equipment of video taping a person charged with certain crimes but there is no requirement to actually do so, correct?
It looks to me like [the Houston Police Department] wants justification for not using the video equipment that they are required to have. And Warren is giving them that justification.
Why, if you have to purchase and maintain the video equipment, would you not want to use it?
And why, if you were the lead prosecutor on DWI cases in Harris County, would you not admonish [the Houston Police Department] that the better practice, to make sure that the jury has the best possible evidence, is to use the equipment?
When I first began trying DUI cases in 1990 as a criminal defense lawyer in Palm Beach County, Florida, it was common practice for the Sheriff's Office to videotape the exercises that people were instructed to perform by the side of the road during a routine DUI investigation. After the person was arrested and taken to the county jail, he was again instructed to perform those same exercises while being videotaped.
In several cases that I handled, I was puzzled as to why my client had ever been arrested in the first place since he or she performed the exercises with little, if any, difficulty. I think juries were perplexed too, and they often voiced their perplexity with votes of "not guilty."
So it wasn't surprising that beginning in the early 90's, the Sheriff's Office stopped videotaping people when they were performing exercises by the side of the road. And for the past several years, arrested individuals have not been instructed to repeat such exercises after being taken to the county jail.
The result is that in many cases, jurors never see for themselves how the person on trial actually performed the exercises. They are instead asked to rely upon the self-serving observations of the arresting officer.
Why not go back to videotaping the entire investigation? Isn't the purpose of a trial to discover the truth?