Police testimony is a powerful tool for obtaining convictions in DUI cases. Jurors often take the statements of police at face value, assuming credibility because of the source. Due to the sense of trust invested in peace officers, police testimony can be extremely damaging to your case. Even if their statements can be objectively refuted with evidence and a compelling argument, it is difficult to dispel the inherent trust jurors have placed with an officer giving testimony.
Some jurors may be inclined to side with a police officer because they believe they have no reason to lie or give false testimony. For this reason, it is critical that you hire a Hall County DUI attorney with aggressive, effective, yet balanced cross-examination techniques to discredit police testimony in your case. Even if chemical test evidence has been challenged or successfully repressed, a DUI defendant may still be 'done in' by police testimony. Do not let the testimony of a single individual with good standing foil your entire DUI defense. You are urged to retain a skilled legal representative who can challenge and refute the statements of a police officer, raise doubts in the minds of jurors, and secure an acquittal.
Importance of Police Testimony
By its very nature, there is an element of subjectivity to any testimony given by a witness, whether sourced by a child or a veteran peace officer. Testimony will be colored by the witness's unique opinion, bias, tone and disposition, which will, in turn, affect the jury's perception of the case. If the witness benefits from a great deal of credibility, as police officers often do, then their testimony can be damaging to your case.
While witness testimony, in general, can be critical to the outcome of your case, there are different considerations when a police officer testifies. An officer can be considered an expert witness in your DUI case. Plenty of officers have taken the stand dozens of times and feel no trepidation about speaking before the court. Others may not have the same confidence in the courtroom, but their statements can be equally harmful.
Strategies to Breakdown the Credibility of Testimony
The courtroom is not the natural terrain of a police officer. Stepping on the stand can be intimidating even to a seasoned officer, especially when they must be cross-examined by a defense attorney. Officers are often briefed on the objectives and general tactics used by defense attorneys so that they do not say or do anything that harms the state's case.
Objectives of Cross-Examination of Police Testimony
- Attack witness credibility;
- Weaken and discredit damaging evidence; and
- Bolster exculpatory evidence.
The police officer will provide his or her account as to why he or she stopped your vehicle, what was witnessed and why he or she believed there was a good reason to arrest you. This could either be a very damaging moment in your case, or one that is incredibly helpful to you -- depending on how your attorney approaches it. The police officer will need to provide just cause for the traffic stop. If no good reason to pull you over existed, then your rights were violated and you stand to have your charges dropped.
An experienced Hall County DUI lawyer will be able to probe and scrutinize the officer's testimony, drawing attention to generalizations and glossed over details. Your lawyer may be able to perform a legal maneuver in which he or she crafts the examination questions to force the officer to admit there was no good reason to pull you over. This would, of course, depend on the circumstances of your particular case. Your lawyer may also be able to contrast the dash cam footage with the officer's statements in order to show any contradictions that are ultimately beneficial to your defense.
Questioning the Officer's Ability to Tell when Someone is Drunk
Jurors are inclined to validate the observations of a police officer over a random person, assuming the police are better able to discern when a suspect is inebriated. Your Hall County DUI attorney may be able to prove that these underlying assumptions are not valid.
Despite a general belief that an experienced police officer can tell when someone is drunk, a study by Rutgers University Alcohol Behavior Research Laboratory found that there was little difference between a bartender, a social drinker and a police officer's ability to determine inebriation, with each group correctly guessing the subject's state about 25% of the time. Such statistics underline the fact that despite personal convictions, a police officer who genuinely believes a suspect was drunk may, in fact, have been mistaken. These nuances are critical in cases where the suspect's BAC reading was below .08 at the time of testing; the state may still wish to pursue a conviction, on the grounds that the suspect was above the limit while they were driving. Such a case would hinge on the officer's observations and perception of the driver during the traffic stop.
Questioning The Officer's Motivations to Testify Against You
If your lawyer can argue that the arrest was questionable, it can also be asked if the police officer is receiving overtime pay to testify in court. This could raise doubts about the integrity of the officer's intentions. If the jurors can be convinced that you were arrested on questionable charges and that the officer stood to gain from your arrest, they may not find you guilty as charged. This tactic does not always unfold this way but is an option in applicable cases when executed strategically and properly.
Contrasting The Suspect's Behavior With Worse Behavior
The officer may cite your behavior and other reasons why he or she believed it you should be arrested. For example, perhaps you stumbled during a field sobriety test. This behavior will likely be mentioned by the officer (provided he or she remembers this detail; challenging the memory of an officer is another tactic during cross-examination). By contrasting your 'poor test result' with something worse, this may lessen the impact of how the bad result is perceived by the jury. In response to a statement that you stumbled, your lawyer may ask, "She didn't fall down?" or "She took a single misstep? Before successfully completing the test?" By portraying your 'poor test result in this light, it may not have as great of an impact on the jury.
The earlier your lawyer can impeach the police witness, the better it is for your case. At all points of the testimony, your lawyer may be looking for evidence in the police officer's statements or behavior that would effectively impeach their credibility.