Anyone can make a mistake that causes a traffic accident. Like anyone else, when a police officer’s careless driving causes an accident, the officer should admit his mistake and accept the consequences. That isn’t what happened in the case of a Hollywood, Florida woman who was falsely accused of DUI to cover up an officer’s negligent driving.
Officer Joel Francisco rear-ended a car driven by Alexandra Torrensvilas. The collision was clearly Francisco’s fault, but when he called his police buddies for assistance, they hatched a plot to blame the accident on Torrensvilas.
An officer questioned Torrensvilas, who admitted she had been drinking. Using that admission as an excuse to save Francisco from embarrassment, the officer immediately arrested Torrensvilas for DUI.
It is not against the law to drive after drinking unless the driver consumed enough alcohol to impair her driving ability or to raise her blood alcohol content to at least 0.08. The officer who arrested Torrensvilas gave her no field sobriety tests. He administered no breath test before making the arrest. He had no reason to believe she broke the law beyond her admission that she attended a beer party. He arrested her only to shift blame for the accident away from Francisco.
Fortunately, a dashboard camera in one of the police cars captured the officers during their brainstorming session. The bizarre story they concocted involved a runaway cat that supposedly distracted Francisco. They also took photographs of the accident scene from an angle that made it appear as if Torrensvilas swerved in front of Francisco.
The Florida case is an extreme example of a common problem. Drivers are too often stopped and arrested for DUI for reasons that have nothing to do with unsafe or suspicious driving. Some are stopped for the offense of “driving while black.” Others are stopped because the police need to meet an unofficial arrest quota in order to advance their careers.
Unless they see a driver commit a traffic violation, the police cannot stop a driver unless they have probable cause to believe that the driver violated a law. That does not stop officers from fabricating violations in order to stop random drivers. The same kind of dashboard cameras that exonerated Alexandra Torrensvilas often show that the moving violation used to justify a traffic stop never occurred.
Police justify arrests by claiming that drivers failed field sobriety tests. Again, videos from dashboard cameras can be valuable evidence to establish that an officer is embellishing his or her account of the driver’s test performance. DUI charges are usually dismissed after a judge rules that the officer’s explanation for stopping or arresting a driver is unworthy of belief.
If you lie to a police officer, you can be prosecuted for a crime. If an officer lies to you, no crime has occurred. Police officers are trained to lie as a tactic that induces confessions. Once they begin to believe that lying is just part of the job, bad cops never stop telling lies.
Lying under oath while testifying in court for a DUI is perjury, whether the lie is told by a police officer or any other witness. Yet police who lie about the evidence supporting a traffic stop or an arrest are almost never prosecuted. Neither are they disciplined. They just move on to the next case — and the next lie.
The only effective remedy against a dishonest police officer is an honest criminal defense attorney. DUI defense lawyers become skilled at exposing lies while cross-examining truth-challenged police officers. They are the first line of defense against corrupt police practices that lead to unfair charges against innocent defendants.