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A Tampa DUI scandal has led to a dozen DUI charges being dropped. Many more cases are being questioned after a Tampa police sergeant was fired for allegedly concealing his role in a "set-up" DUI arrest.
According to The Tampa Tribune, Sgt. Ray Fernandez was allegedly involved in deleting text messages related to the planned arrest of a Tampa attorney -- actions that led to his firing from the force and the dropping of "about a dozen cases."
Fernandez's credibility has been tainted, so what can prosecutors do for any cases in which he was a witness?
Ex-Officer's Cases Dropped
In any criminal case, much less a DUI case, evidence given by the prosecutor is subject to attacks regarding the credibility of the witness(es) who testify.
The Tribune reports that Fernandez was involved in about a dozen DUI cases which have been dropped by the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. Other cases in which Fernandez was the arresting officer are likely to be dropped as well.
Prosecutors often refuse to pursue charges or ask to dismiss a case because of a lack of evidence, and with the star witness in many of these DUI cases tainted by the recent scandal, the Hillsborough County prosecutors won't have much evidence to go on.
Mark Cox, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, told the Tribune that they couldn't proceed "if [they couldn't] rely on the truthfulness of a witness." So many of Fernandez's cases are likely to go.
Salvaging the Remaining Cases
There are another 40 active cases in which Fernandez is involved, reports the Tribune, but some may be as tangential as simply signing off on a report.
In those cases, prosecutors still have a good chance of obtaining convictions. But in light of the scandal, they will need to convince a jury there was reasonable suspicion for a DUI stop.
There is serious reason to doubt the legitimacy of Tampa police DUI stops after the alleged "set-up." Prosecutors can prove these stops were legal by showing that each defendant was either violating a traffic law or driving erratically when the respective officers pulled them over.
The alleged "set-up" DUI arrest itself is still being investigated, and no charges have yet been filed against the former officer.