A woman's car gets T-boned by a sheriff's cruiser that runs a stop sign. The woman's injuries, including a broken neck, are so severe that responding officers are unable to perform a field sobriety test.
So can the officers arrest her on suspicion of DUI relying solely on a deputy's statement that her speech was slurred and her eyes were red? The answer, and what happened next, may surprise you.
Your Word Against Theirs
As Milwaukee's WITI-TV noted in its investigation of the crash involving 25-year-old Tanya Wetker -- who was arrested for suspected OWI (operating while intoxicated), despite being completely sober when the deputy hit her -- a drunken-driving arrest can be made based solely on the observations of a law-enforcement officer.
Generally, an officer who suspects a driver of a DUI performs field sobriety tests and other chemical tests to detect the presence of drugs or alcohol in a person's blood and measure their level of intoxication.
However, when field-sobriety or chemical tests cannot be performed, an officer can still arrest you for DUI based on a reasonable belief that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. This belief known as "probable cause" is considered sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime, and essentially pits your word against the officer's in court.
How Do You Prove the Officer Was Wrong?
In Wetker's case, Milwaukee County "sent letters blaming her for the crash and threatening legal action if she didn't pay for the damage," WITI-TV reports. The county also failed to tell her about a key piece of evidence: video from an airport surveillance camera that showed the accident did not take place as the deputy had described it in his report.
That's partly why, nearly a year after the 2013 crash, prosecutors declined to press charges. Wetker now wants the county to pay for her medical bills, and has filed a complaint against the deputy who wrongly arrested her, WITI-TV reports.
Other types of evidence that can work in your favor include:
- Statements made by other witnesses, or even by the officers involved, which support your version of events; and
- The officer's own dashcam video of the incident. Dashcam video can show that an officer failed to follow the proper procedure in making the arrest or finessed the facts to make a case against you.
Uncovering such evidence and presenting it in court, however, can be difficult. If you are wrongly arrested for driving while intoxicated, an experienced DUI lawyer can help you discover and collect all available facts and figure out the best way to prove your innocence.
- Sober Man's DUI Arrest Leads to $500k Claim (FindLaw's Injured)
- Can You Beat a DUI Charge on a Technicality? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- High Driver Calls Cops on Drunken Driver; Both Get Arrested (FindLaw's Blotter)
- 3 Ways to Challenge Field Sobriety Tests (FindLaw's Blotter)