Jersey Drunk Driving Update: State Patrol Officer Fired After Allegedly Faking Dozens of DWI Cases

No one is perfect, though we all hope that certain professionals are as close to representing a particular ideal as is humanly possible. That said, we would never suggest that the actions of any one individual would necessarily represent the thoughts, actions or mindset of an entire group of people or a particular organization. However, it is instructive from time to time to understand that certain behaviors do exist, even in those within organizations dedicated to maintaining the public good or the personal safety of American citizens.

As New Jersey DWI-DUI defense lawyers, my firm constantly works in the interests of its clients, many of whom have been accused of committing any number of traffic-related violations, not the least of which is driving while intoxicated. The mere suggestion that a law enforcement officer may have been predisposed to arresting a motorist for driving under the influence even before stopping that driver and interviewing him face-to-face would make most police officials cry foul. But, as human beings are not always perfect, one can only reason that in the history of traffic-related arrests, a certain percentage of cases, however small, may have been motivated more by a hunch than by any specific fact.

We bring this up if only because of a recent news item that may get some people thinking about the supposed motivations of some individuals in law enforcement. Again, we are not suggesting that any one officer in any particular police department is following the same course as the subject of this latest news story, but only that the possibility exists. As experienced trial lawyers and drunk driving defense attorneys, our only suggestion to those accused of DWI or drug DUI, make a point to consult with a qualified legal professional experienced in New Jersey drunk driving law BEFORE you walk into a courtroom to plead your DWI case.

According to that new article, a highway patrol officer, who was apparently a rising star in the Utah Highway Patrol, has been hit with a lawsuit that claims she allegedly falsified dozens of drunken driving arrests over the years. Sadly, at least for this law enforcement agency, the officer in question had already been honored with accolades for her service and even was awarded the title of “Trooper of the Year,” back in 2007.

Based on those news reports, Officer Lisa Steed has already been dismissed from the highway patrol, ending what had been a promising career over the past 10 years. The lawsuit against her, and the highway patrol, was apparently filed last month in Salt Lake County District Court states that some of the drivers that Ms. Steed pulled over and charged with DWI had not been drinking, or certainly not sufficiently to be legally impaired. The suit was reportedly filed by a handful of local attorneys on behalf of two plaintiffs.

Like the typical DWI arrest scenario that plays out on a daily basis here in the Garden State, the arrests conducted by Ms. Steed apparently began under similar circumstances, likely a simple traffic infraction such as speeding or improper lane change. But the difference, according to the lawsuit, is that in some cases those motorists who were charged with DWI did even not drink alcohol. Not surprising in a state that has a reputation for having more than a few teetotalers throughout its population.

According to the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, the apparently unrelated plaintiffs had contacted their individual attorneys complaining of similar circumstances, that of being pulled over, being told by the officer that the motorist “smelled like alcohol” and then being arrested. In each of those cases, the plaintiffs have apparently claimed that they not only had not been drinking, but that they also passed the field sobriety tests administered by Officer Steed. Regardless, the officer arrested those complainants and charged them with DWI.

According to news articles, the 40 or more individuals have claimed that they were falsely arrested by the officer. Based on statements by the Plaintiffs’ lawyers, in every case the charges were eventually dropped or reduced, though not before those motorists had to paid for bail, shell out fees for a court hearing and pay to have their impounded vehicles released. In most cases, according to the attorneys, costs to these innocent victims came to $1,000 or more.

While the officer is reportedly appealing her dismissal from the force, her lawyer has stated that the allegations in the recent lawsuit against his client were “overblown,” arguing that the majority of her arrests — thousands over the course of her career — have stood up in court. Whatever the result of this incident, it should be a wake-up call for anyone accused of drinking and driving. Never assume the state has the upper hand, and always consult with a qualified DWI lawyer to know your legal rights.

Suit Claims Officer Faked D.U.I. Cases, NYTimes.com, January 2, 2013