Dashcam delays in Travis County DWIs

Unnacceptable delay in receiving evidence is starting to be noticed - finally

Time keeps on slippin' slippin' ...

Yesterday the Austin American Statesman posted an article on the huge delay in relaying dashcam video to defendants in DWI cases. To give this some context, we defense attorneys used to receive the videos 2-3 weeks after requesting them. If there was a pressing need to get the videos expedited, we could sometimes get them in a day or two. About a year ago, APD moved to an “improved” system, and now it takes months to receive these videos.

Why is the dashcam video important?

In many DWI cases, the dashcam video is the most crucial piece of evidence, especially if there are no blood or breath results. Rather than relying on a second-hand account, lawyers, judges and juries can watch the arrest and form their own conclusions. Police officers are human and therefore fallible. They can be biased, can lie, or sometimes they simply make mistakes. Without the dashcam, we must take their word for what happened.

Why is the delay consequential?

We have all heard that in America, you are innocent until proven guilty. This is certainly true as it relates to a conviction. But make no mistake, you can lose important rights pre-conviction merely by being arrested.

In DWI cases, you may be forced to put an interlock device in your car or wear an ankle monitor that detects alcohol 24/7. Sometimes the judge orders you to attend counseling or classes.   These conditions may seem minor at first glance, but the minor annoyances – and especially the costs – can add up very quickly. If the dashcam video shows that you weren’t really intoxicated or that there was no valid reason for the stop, you can’t get go back and recover the fees you paid for months to SmartStart (one of the companies that provides interlock devices in Travis County). You’re not convicted, but you’re still out a lot of money.

Second, your Driver’s License may be affected. If you refuse or fail a blood or breath test for alcohol, your license can be suspended. If you are facing suspension, you can fight it in an ALR hearing where you can challenge whether the officer had reasonable suspicion for the DWI. With the delay in receiving the dashcam video, attorneys now must resort to questioning the officer on his report alone. Often the officer will have memorized his report, so the cross-examination is useless – he or she just repeats what is in the report.

Third, a DWI arrest can cost you your job, or future employment opportunities. Many employers will not distinguish between an arrest and conviction. In Texas an employer can fire you for any reason. Many will not listen if you tell them that you are actually innocent. So imagine now that you are wrongfully charged with DWI and terminated from your job. If the dashcam will exonerate you, you could still be out of work for 8-9 months. This is unacceptable.

Finally, you may be required to attend court dates for months. This doesn’t seem so bad right? Well, now imagine that you have to request a morning off of work every single month, and cannot be flexible about the day. Or even worse, imagine that you want to take a job in another state. Do you fly back every month just to have your court date reset? Plea negotiations in DWIs don’t even really get started until the video arrives. So, a delay of 8-9 months can really mean a full year or more before the case is resolved.

Things should get better soon

The delays are not acceptable and as the Statesman Article reports, judges are finally beginning to take a stand. This is important because the Police Department will simply not listen to Defense Attorneys. They don’t like us very much, so our complaints are music to their ears. But they do have to listen to the judges. Hopefully real change is coming soon.

From the outside looking in, you might say ”who cares – what is a few extra months?” But those who are affected know that a few months can mean everything. If you have been accused of a DWI in Travis, Williamson or surrounding counties, you can call me for a free phone consultation. 512-677-5003.

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