Many squad cars across the country are equipped with dashboard cameras. Last year, a video from a routine traffic stop made national news and went viral on the internet. The law enforcement officer stops a mother with five children for speeding. After a confrontation, the motorist speeds away and the officer fires at the vehicle.

The officer later resigned. The woman driving faces child abuse charges. Video documentation of the interaction did not leave much room for varying accounts of what happened. Squad car video can provide a defense to many charges that might flow from a faulty initial traffic stop.

Initial stop in a Missouri DWI

In a routine traffic stop, an officer needs to have a suspicion that a driver violated a state traffic law to justify the seizure. Turning on the flashers to initiate a stop often activates recording when a squad car has a dash cam.

An officer might stop a vehicle, because of a cracked taillight. This motor vehicle violation could then lead to a Missouri driving while impaired charge. For instance, the officer might allege he detected alcohol on the driver's breath or observed the driver had "bloodshot", "glassy" or "watery" eyes

The defense generally can review video of the traffic stop to ensure that it supports the officer's alleged reason for stopping a car.

DWI charges dismissed

In one Missouri case, the officer stopped a pickup truck because the passenger side headlight was not working. While talking to the driver, the officer detected the odor of intoxicants, the driver's speech was slightly slurred and his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. After a breath test indicated the driver had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, he was charged with driving while impaired.

In a pre-trial evidentiary hearing, the driver asked the court to review the squad video that seemed to show the passenger side headlight was working. The officer explained that the discrepancy was due to a low quality camera and glare.

The circuit court was able to review the video and found that the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop the pickup truck. The judge said, "[w]hen you look at the video, and I looked at it ... there is another light on there and it certainly appears that the other light is the headlight." The DWI charges were thus dismissed.

On review, the appellate court also reviewed the video and concluded that the trial court's conclusion was reasonable. The video was clear enough to allow for a finding that both headlights were illuminated.

It is not common that a video will so clearly contradict an officer's claimed reason for a stop. However, there are many borderline cases where an officer stops a car based on a mistaken interpretation of a state law. Video may also show that it was too dark and impossible for the officer to spot illegal window tint or expired registration.

A DWI charge and conviction can broadly affect your life from possible jail and fines to higher insurance premiums. If charged with driving while impaired in Missouri, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assist in reaching the best possible outcome based on your unique circumstances.

Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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