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Indiana Court: Police Testimony Trumps Video

In an age where it has become absolutely routine to have video evidence that shows police officers to be lying in their reports and testimony, the Indiana Supreme Court is coming down firmly on the side of “who are you gonna believe, the cop or your lying eyes?”

Videotape evidence can be overruled by the testimony and after-the-fact interpretation of a police officer, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last week. In a 6 to 1 decision, justices overruled the state Court of Appeals which reviewed dashcam footage of Joanna S. Robinson driving her Chrysler PT Cruiser at around 1am on October 15, 2011 in Elkhart County and found no evidence of a crime.

Sheriff’s Deputy Casey Claeys followed Robinson on County Road 4, and he testified that he saw her “drive off the right side, which was the south side of the road, twice.” He conducted a traffic stop which led to her being busted for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) after her breathalyzer reading was 0.01 over the legal limit. She also was carrying a small amount of marijuana. The justices, however, only concerned themselves with whether the initial traffic stop was justified. Elkhart Superior Court Judge Charles Carter Wicks concluded that the stop was justified when the case came to trial.

“I reviewed the video on approximately ten occasions and cannot conclude from the video that the defendant’s vehicle actually left the roadway,” Judge Wicks found. “But it does show the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the white fog line.”…

“Deputy Claeys, as he drove down County Road 4 on that October night, was observing Robinson’s vehicle through the lens of his experience and expertise,” Justice Mark S. Massa wrote for the majority. “And when Deputy Claeys testified at the suppression hearing, the trial judge heard his testimony — along with the other witness testimony and evidence, including the video — through the lens of his experience and expertise. Ultimately, that experience and expertise led the trial judge to weigh Deputy Claeys’s testimony more heavily than the video evidence, and we decline Robinson’s invitation to substitute our own judgment for that of the trial court and rebalance the scales in her favor.”

So they won’t substitute their own judgment for the trial court, but they will substitute the lies of the officer over the video evidence that shows him to be lying. I feel so much safer now, don’t you?

Comments

  1. says

    This is an outrage! Oh, wait…it was through the lens of his experience AND expertise? Nevermind. Whew, a check AND a balance. I am reassured, now.

  2. cswella says

    Curious, for those who would know a thing about it. (Minnesota) This story reminds me of an incident.

    I was driving to pick up a friend at a motel (she works there at the desk), and got pulled over by an undercover vehicle as I got to the motel parking lot. He told me he pulled me over for my tire hitting the double yellow line as I turned to the left to enter the parking lot.

    After barely discussing that, he asked if I was here to solicit a prostitute. Spent 10 minutes being asked questions about who I was picking up, where I lived, who owned my vehicle, etc. Then I was let off with a warning about driving.

    Later, talking to the friend, found out that the motel is a popular place for 1-2 known prostitutes.

    My question is, was what he did legal? I honestly don’t know, but I thought it was a weird scene.

  3. Sastra says

    Next time the referee’s call clearly contradicts the evidence on the replay and Indiana loses, I don’t want to hear one word of complaint coming from any Supreme Court justice sitting in front of the television and watching the game. I’m sure they’ll quietly accept it.

  4. barry21 says

    I’m a bit confused. Was the deputy saying that the car veered off the road entirely? If a cop sees you weaving, but staying within the lane markers, is that not sufficient cause for a traffic stop?

    I know this is a bit off topic.

  5. dmcclean says

    I’m with #4. If the judge found that the video “does show the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the white fog line”, whereas the officer’s testimony was that it “drive off the right side, which was the south side of the road, twice”, I don’t really see that as a huge contradiction.

  6. Synfandel says

    barry21, I don’t think that’s off topic. It’s exactly what I was thinking when I read the bit.

  7. John Pieret says

    Re @4 and @7:

    That is sort of what is happening. The issue in the trial court was whether the police officer had “reasonable suspicion” that a crime (DWI) was occurring as to make a traffic stop. The trial judge, on a motion to suppress the breathalyser and marijuana possession evidence, found that the police officer did have reasonable suspicion.

    The appellate court is going by Indiana rule that appellate courts cannot “reweigh” the evidence because the trial court actually hears the evidence and is in the best position to judge it. Not all states have that rule (in my own, New York, the intermediate appellate court has quite broad, but not complete, power to review evidentiary rulings of the trial courts). The state argued that the video wasn’t complete and good enough to rule out the officer’s testimony.

    The Appellate court specifically notes that, assuming the trial court believed that the defendant’s vehicle only veered onto the fog line, there was enough other evidence sufficient to sustain the finding of reasonable suspicion.

    I’m not defending the decision but what’s going on here is more complicated than “video evidence that shows police officers to be lying” is being ignored.

  8. says

    cswella “Later, talking to the friend, found out that the motel is a popular place for 1-2 known prostitutes.”
    How popular is the motel among unknown prostitutes?

  9. John Horstman says

    Along the lines of comments #4, 7, and 9, this doesn’t seem *that* bad to me. I probably wouldn’t describe just driving out of the marked lines as “off the right side [of the road]“, but I also wouldn’t consider that to be an unreasonable or unfair description, if one considers “the road” to be the area demarcated for driving and not the total of the paved area. The “through the lens of his experience and expertise” language is rather troubling, more for the wider principle and less for this particular case.

    @Modusoperandi #10: It’s an unknown unknown.

  10. tpoiii says

    Actually, several judges seem to have kept an eye on the “custodes.” You can’t generalize about police. Some are over zealous cowboys, but some will stand between you and danger even after you disrespect them.

    The woman was driving drunk and the cop caught her. The video evidence was in dispute, but not the breathalyzer. We should all be glad this cop nabbed her before her drunk driving killed someone. She was only 0.01 (I.e., 12% above 0.08) above the limit, but that’s still impaired, and she should not have been behind the wheel. She could have killed a pedestrian–some other drunk who was doing the right thing by walking home on the shoulder of that same road.

    When it comes to DUI/DWI I want cops to be hypersensitive because DUI is just wildly dangerous behavior with absolutely no societal value. If the cop’s memory exaggerated the degree of bad driving, so what? The breathalyzer unambiguously showed she was endangering the rest of us. Get her off the street.

  11. wscott says

    If the suspect vehicle had one set of tires cross the lane marking, that is technically “leaving the roadway” tho the officer could’ve/should’ve phrased it differently to be more clear. And even if all the vehicle was doing was swerving within the lane, that’s still enough PC that the driver might be impaired. The discrepancy between the video and the cop’s memory is pretty trivial, not crucial enough to justify overturning the trial court. Save your outrage for one of the (depressingly common) cases where police are caught lying about something that matters.

    @ #2: What you experienced is commonly known as a “pretext stop” where the police use a minor traffic violation as an excuse to look for more serious violations. Happens all the time, and is within the letter of the law in most states AFAIK. The problem is it’s so subjective that the practice is very open to abuse.

  12. wscott says

    @14: I share your contempt for anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car drunk. However, from a legal standpoint the Exclusionary Rule means the justification for the traffic stop still matters – if the stop was unjustified in the first place, then the breathalyzer is “fruit of the poisonous tree” and inadmissible. As I said in my previous post, I think it does look like the stop was justified – but it’s still a fair question to ask.

  13. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @John Pieret, #9:

    (in my own, New York, the intermediate appellate court has quite broad, but not complete, power to review evidentiary rulings of the trial courts).

    Reviewing evidentiary rulings is not the same as reviewing findings of fact. Which did you mean here?

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