The Arresting Officer

In most cases, the field evidence produced by the prosecution will be in the form of testimony from one or more police officers, usually the officer or officers who arrested the defendant. In some cases, such as where the initial police contact comes from a call to the scene of an accident, lay witness testimony — often of the occupants of the car involved in the collision with the defendant's vehicle — will be offered as an integral part of the prosecution case (and, in fact, will be necessary to establishing the "driving" element of the offense). Lay witness testimony is, of course, usually given less weight by the jury; it is the testimony of the trained, experienced, and "impartial" police officer that carries weight with the triers of fact. And it is this witness that a good drunk driving lawyer must learn to deal with.

Generally speaking, the testimony of a police officer can be approached in the following steps:

  1. questioning the officer's qualifications and experience in the very limited area of drunk driving
  2. establishing his predisposition to believe the defendant guilty at initial stages of the detention and field sobriety tests
  3. suggesting innocent explanations for such incriminating observations as alcoholic breath, slurred speech or bloodshot eyes.
  4. emphasizing the observations that tend to establish the defendant's sobriety
  5. attacking the officer's observations, interrogations, and testing procedures — including procedures the officer failed to follow

California DUI lawyers must deal with each officer on an individual basis, understanding at all times the jurors' attitudes toward his questioning. Where a knock-down cross-examination of an officer under one set of circumstances may be appropriate, a very tactful and respectful approach may be more productive under another.