Visiting the Scene
Whether it is a homicide or a DWI, before we go to trial, in many cases it is important to visit the scene of where the alleged events took place.
When I receive discovery, or evidence, from the prosecuting attorney on a particular case, there are often photos of the crime scene, or in the case of a DWI or other traffic offense, a dash cam of the traffic stop. It is important to remember that when the officers are taking photos or making videos, they are doing so in support of their case. They are not thinking like a defense attorney. Often, when I go to visit the scene at a later date, I find it very helpful to get my bearings to better understand eyewitness accounts or discover possible defenses.
For example, in a homicide case I tried several years ago, my client was found not guilty after the jury found he acted in self-defense. Before the trial, I visited the scene with our investigator. It became clear that the police photos could not fully convey how steep and rocky the terrain was and how difficult it would have been for our client, who was barefoot at the time, to safely escape from the men assaulting him. We also were able to get a good look at the river currents and the bank of the river. This helped develop questions to ask the police officers who investigated the events in order to paint a clearer picture of the scene for the jurors.
In another recent homicide case, we discovered evidence that an area only yards away from the alleged crime scene was frequently used for unauthorized camping and heavy drinking by a number of individuals. By taking the time to walk and fully investigate the scene, we were able to get a clearer picture of the area. Fortunately, the case was dismissed before trial.
When investigating a DWI or other traffic offense, sometimes the officers make a mistake about the speed limit for a particular stretch of road. I've also discovered that some rural roads may not have a clearly painted center line. It also is important to note the levelness of the ground where field sobriety tests are performed.
Visiting the scene is not required in every case and does not always lead to a dismissal or a not-guilty. However, in many cases, police photos are no substitute for having a member of the defense team take the time to investigate and photograph the area where the alleged events occurred.
Call Autumn Tolbert, Attorney at Law PLLC at (479) 283-4688.