|Posted on September 26, 2017 at 4:55 PM|
One of the things I learned about the practice of criminal defense while working as a student attorney in the Center for Legal and Social Justice in San Antonio is that you have to know your case better than anyone else in the courtroom. I learned that it's not enough just to read a police report and talk to your client about what happened. You have to visit the scene of the offense. Sometimes it seems like this step is unnecessary or a waste of time. It's easy to doubt whether there really is anything to learn from the scene of a DWI by going to the site of arrest.
Well, there's a lot to be learned. In order for the police to stop you to begin with, they have to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you have committed a violation of law or are in the process of committing a violation of law. Often, the initial reason for the stop is a minor traffic infraction such as failure to stop at a stop sign, or speeding.
One example of the importance of visiting the scene is a case in Brownsville, Texas where my client was charged with unlawful possession of an illegal knife. Police said they stopped my client for failure to stop at a stop sign. After the stop, my client was asked to exit the vehicle and police executed a warrantless search. They found a kitchen knife under the passenger seat.
In preparation of the case I decided to visit the scene of the offense where my client had been stopped. As it turns out, there was no stop sign at the location of the stop. My client was illegally stopped and searched. Upon presentation of the facts, and the pictures I had taken of the scene, to the prosecutor, the case was dismissed.
On another occasion, police listed the reason for stopping my client as seen speeding on the highway, in Olmito, Texas, in a northern direction while the officer travelled the opposite direction. I decided to see for myself whether there was a listed speed limit sign on the highway where the officer stopped my client. It turns out, I learned more than that, I learned that with the wall that divides the highway, it's impossible to see traffic traveling in the opposite direction. I managed to get the prosecuting attorney to take a ride with me to see for himself what I had learned through my "crime scene" investigation and he agreed with me. Even better, he dismissed the case because he knew that the case would not hold up against a motion to suppress evidence.
Those are just two examples of how it pays off to pay attention to the little details of a case. Often the winning ingredient lies in "the little things" that you do to prepare. Types of cases that I have had dismissed because of "crime scene" investigation include: Arson (Revealed burn marks were from prior unreported incident and no emergency vehicle was called out to the scene), DWI (Revealed view of alleged speeding was impossible), Sexual Assault (Revealed alleged "offender" was harassed, threatened, and extorted by accuser).
Categories: Boots On the Ground