How Does A STEP Campaign Affect Trial Strategy?

In a previous post, we looked at formal DWI checkpoints. As we discussed, mostly due to budget cuts, there are fewer and fewer checkpoints in Harris County except on high drinking-and-driving holidays. So, many local law enforcement agencies rely on less expensive, and also less regulated, informal checkpoints.

Publishing heiress Patty Hearst, who is arguably an authority on this subject, once said that “trouble is very easy to find when you go looking for it.” If officers go to a certain location to arrest people for DWI, that’s what they will do, sometimes regardless of what the evidence dictates.

Determining the Type of Stop

In most DWI trials and hearings, defense attorneys nearly always ask the officers something like “Why were you near the intersection of X and Y at that particular time?” The answer to this question usually has a significant bearing on the remainder of the defense. If the officer was on routine patrol, that’s usually the end of the inquiry. But if the officer was on Selective Traffic Enforcement Patrol or some other form of saturation patrol, the next few questions are usually markedly different.

Procedure varies by department, but in most saturation enforcement campaigns, officers are pulled off their normal beats and shifts, redirected to certain areas, and instructed to enforce specific laws, such as speeding or DWI. Many STEP campaigns have high-profile advertising slogans, such as “Click It or Ticket” and “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” Supposedly, that latter name came from the same advertising firm that developed the less-than-memorable line “You don’t have to be a farmer to save money with Farmers’ Insurance.” But I digress.

Impact on the DWI Defense

To justify the officer overtime and other expenses involved in STEP campaigns, superiors sometimes pressure officers to issue citations and make arrests if the evidence even remotely supports such action.

As a result, lack of reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause is sometimes an issue in STEP stops. Instead of several clues to initiate the field tests, the officer only looks for one or two. And, when the defendant performs these field tests, the officers are even more meticulous in their evaluations.

Many times, the hypertechnical nature of these stops falls flat with jurors. Additionally, many of today’s jurors are less inclined to give police officer the benefit of the doubt in borderline cases. If even one juror has any reasonable doubt as to any element of the offense, the defendant is not guilty.

Rely on a Savvy Attorney

Pre-arrest events, such as the type of stop, often affect the final verdict. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Houston, contact Jim Medley Defense Lawyer.