Fort Worth judge, lawyer have DWI camera questions

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by GARY REAVES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on March 24, 2010 at 11:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 25 at 12:02 AM

FORT WORTH — A video recording of a drunk driver stumbling is usually enough to get a quick guilty plea.

But what if the tape is faulty, silent... or missing?

Defense lawyer Mimi Coffey says that there is often something wrong with the tape. "Lack of sound on DWI videotapes, unfortunately, is very common."

It happens so often that Coffey keeps a motion to suppress faulty tapes loaded in her word processor.

"The equipment wasn't working properly, or they didn't realize they didn't have the mike on," Coffey said.

That's what you would expect to hear from a defense lawyer. But now an appeals court judge is sharing her suspicions — specifically about Fort Worth police.

In a recent dissent, Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot of the Second Court of Appeals wrote:

"At some point, courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol or to a DWI stop contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for."

Tarrant County Prosecutor Richard Alpert said Justice Dauphinot is flat-out wrong.

"I have seen nothing — no record of any kind — to say that this particular department uniquely has a serious problem with their video evidence," Alpert said, and he should know — he supervises all of Tarrant County's DWI prosecutors.

Alpert admits that all departments have problems with cameras, but he said there is no evidence anyone is turning off cameras or microphones to make convictions stick.

"To say that they are rampant or to imply there is something purposeful about them not operating these cameras is not supported by the evidence," Alpert said.

While defense lawyers think it's laudable for Justice Dauphinot to criticize police practices she sees as questionable, it should be noted than none of the other judges on the appeals court joined in her dissent.

News 8 contacted Fort Worth police for their reaction; a spokesman said it would be inappropriate for them to comment.

E-mail greaves@wfaa.com

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