By Stephen K. Talpins, Chief of the County Court Division, Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, Miami, Florida
The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office (SAO) in Miami, Florida, works closely with law enforcement officers and other partners to employ a multidisciplinary approach to abate impaired driving. The effort started 14 years ago with a technical advisory panel can serve as a model for other communities.
In the early 1990s the SAO partnered with law enforcement officers and local toxicologist to form a local technical advisory panel (TAP). The TAP meets quarterly to identify and discuss new priorities, goals, and defense challenges, to coordinate enforcement efforts, and to disseminate information, including legal updates. The Miami-Dade TAP contributed to the success of Miami-Dade County's drug recognition expert (DRE) program.
In 1989 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) and IACP brought the DRE program to Miami. The Miami judges routinely ruled that the DRE evidence was inadmissible. No one contested the rulings. In 1992 the law enforcement agencies and local TAP prioritized the DRE program and asked the State Attorney's Office to pursue court acceptance. In 1993 the SAO commenced a joint effort to achieve that goal.
A team of prosecutors and law enforcement officers was formed for the purpose of conducting a Frye hearing on the evidence. A Frye hearing is designed to determine the admissibility of new and novel scientific evidence. The police officers conducted investigations, collected supporting evidence, reviewed medical literature, participated in all major strategy decisions, and provided expert testimony. Of particular significance, the officers helped the SAO analyze more than 25,000 local DUI cases and 1,000 DRE cases. The analysis verified the accuracy and effectiveness of the standard field sobriety tests (SFST) and DRE.
The officers also helped us present the DRE program to the Dade County Medical Association (DCMA) and the Broward County Medical Association (BCMA). The DCMA and BCMA boards endorsed the DRE program.
Ultimately, SAO presented the trial judge with all of these materials plus thousands of pages of case law and medical literature, other SFST and DRE studies, and expert testimony. The presiding judge ruled in favor of the SAO and held that DRE testimony, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, is generally accepted to be accurate and reliable. The Third District Court of Appeals (DCA) affirmed the trial judge's decision. In a precedent-setting opinion, the DCA held that prosecutors could rely on the HGN test to establish a person's blood alcohol concentration as long as the results of a blood or breath test corroborated the HGN.
Institutionalizing Working Together
The law enforcement community and the State Attorney's Office have institutionalized the relationship. The SAO advises and teaches law enforcement officers about the law, legal standards, and case preparation and testimony. It also provides emergency legal assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it maintains a file cabinet full of medical articles, studies, and case law concerning the SFSTs and DRE.
In the mid-1990s the SAO authored a case preparation and training memorandum for law enforcement officers that ultimately was incorporated into the Institute of Police Technology and Management's DUI Case Preparation Manual for the Florida Law Enforcement Officer (1996). Since that time, the SAO has distributed updated predicate questions and legal updates for DUI officers as needed. Currently, the SAO is creating a training program designed to develop a pool of law enforcement officer expert witnesses.
Law enforcement officers reciprocate by regularly participating in Miami-Dade prosecutor training. First-year county court prosecutors participate in a six-week training program when they start work.
Law enforcement officers participate in this training program and help give the new prosecutors a more realistic and accurate perspective on police procedures. Law enforcement officers currently teach the prosecutors on a myriad of topics including the standardized field sobriety tests, drug recognition expert evidence, the effects of alcohol and drugs, and sobriety checkpoints. All first-year prosecutors attend a sobriety checkpoint or participate in a police ride-along.
In addition, Miami-Dade's more experienced DUI prosecutors attend various law enforcement training programs including DRE preschool and school. Furthermore, law enforcement officers provide litigation support by serving subpoenas and pick-up orders.
The SAO also participates in community events and serves on the Miami-Dade County Board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But the Miami-Dade SAO does not limit its partnerships to local groups and organizations. It also collaborates with other county prosecutors, law enforcement officers, victim groups, toxicologists, and other agencies and participates on Florida's Statewide DUI Enforcement Committee.
This joint effort has yielded impressive results. Florida has passed numerous DUI and other traffic laws that expanded law enforcement's ability to deter and prosecute bad driving. Florida criminalized drag racing and imposed license suspensions on people convicted of certain drug offenses. In the DUI context, Florida enacted its Implied Consent Laws, lowered the legal limit to 0.08, and expanded potential penalties. Still, the best example is the legislature's recent statutory revision that effectively overturned a detrimental court decision.
On October 30, 2002, Florida's Second District Court of Appeals misconstrued one of the Implied Consent provisions and issued an opinion that jeopardized the prosecution of some drugged driving cases. The court's ruling was stunning and unexpected. Florida lawmakers quickly drafted and passed legislation designed to fix the problem; it was signed into law in May 2003. In a matter of months, the public safety community procured legislation that would have taken us years to obtain as individual groups or entities.