Archive for April, 2010

Taking the Breath Test: You’re On Your Own!

April 16, 2010

If you’re arrested for DUI, you’ll be asked to take a breath test.  You may not realize it, but when you get a driver license, you agree in advance to take the test (check the small print on your license). If you refuse, the Department of Motor Vehicles  ( )will suspend your license for a year. If you’ve refused before, the suspension will be 18 months, and you’ll be charged with a crime for the refusal (a first-degree misdemeanor).

The officer who administers the test is supposed to tell you what will happen if you refuse. But you don’t have the right to talk to a lawyer before you decide whether to take the test. Now, a Florida appellate court has specifically ruled that the officer does NOT have to tell you that you don’t have the right to talk to a lawyer before deciding. The officer only has to explain the direct consequences of a refusal.

The process might seem backward, but it’s the law in Florida. First you get arrested, then you decide whether to take the breath test, then you talk to a lawyer.

Don’t skip the third step. Exercise your right to talk to a lawyer before deciding how to plead to a DUI charge!

Did the Police Really “Mishandle” a Rape Case?

April 8, 2010

The Florida Times-Union reported recently that the Jacksonville Beach Police Department “mishandled” a rape case by releasing a photo of a suspect fingered by an informant to the media.

I don’t think the case was mishandled at all—at least in comparison to any other case. It certainly wasn’t unusual for the police to use an informant to try to solve a case. And it wasn’t unusual when the informant identified a suspect from a photo. Publicizing such a photo is actually pretty routine.

This case made headlines because as it turned out, the man in the photo owns a business and two homes. He went to the police station voluntarily, made a statement, and gave a DNA sample. Most named suspects don’t do that.

Apparently the informant misidentified the suspect.  It’s not clear whether the misidentification was intentional or inadvertent, or whether the informant was reliable in the first place.

But just because the suspect in the photo is a businessman with two houses, does that mean per se that he couldn’t be the perpetrator? The point here is that most suspects aren’t cleared simply because they protest their innocence. Why did the police publicly apologize for what is essentially routine police work?

What the police should be doing is questioning their use of informants and re-thinking whether the informants they use really are reliable.  Too many convictions are obtained by relying on the questionable information provided by informants, some of whom are actually paid by the police.

And for that matter, the police should be looking more carefully at the reliability of all eyewitness identifications.  How many people convicted solely on the testimony of an eyewitness identification will have to be exonerated before they admit that it’s just not that reliable, especially without corroborating evidence?