Unlike many criminal cases, a driving under the influence case is almost entirely, if not solely, based on the testimony of a single police officer. The officer’s observations of the individual’s driving, and subsequent performance on field sobriety tests, including the results of the individual’s chemical test is the evidence that the prosecution will rely upon in filing criminal charges against the accused. In essence it is the officer’s word against that of the accused. The accused, who may have consumed some alcohol, must face the almost insurmountable hurdle of overcoming the observations claimed to have been made by the officer.
What happens in a driving under the influence case if the officer lies? Society in general likes to believe that police officers do not lie. In essence, we have to believe that police officers always tell the truth. However, the fact of the matter is that police officers, like many individuals, do not always tell the truth. An instance of a police officer lying in a driving under the influence case was recently reported by the Sharon Herald. Below is the article from the Sharon Herald.
As a citizen, Raymond Bogaty wants to believe the police.
“We all want to believe the police,” he said.
But, as Mercer County Public Defender, Bogaty has occasionally suspected that a story told by a policeman has not been the whole truth.
“I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” he said. “You always have concerns about truthfulness. You, at times, suspect the truth is not being told.”
Still, it’s rare to catch a policeman in a lie, or to get an admission that someone has lied, he said.
That unusual event occurred Tuesday when Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems and Hermitage Police Chief Patrick B. McElhinny released statements saying that Hermitage patrolman Dennis Best had admitted lying under oath in a 2008 case.
“This took us by surprise,” Bogaty said, noting that his office has begun a review of cases involving Best, a seven-year member of the department.
“My hope is it’s just a fluke and it’s one case and it’s over with,” he said.
Defense attorney Randall T. Hetrick said he was shocked at the news about Best.
“I’ve always known officer Best to be a very good policeman,” Hetrick said.
Hetrick said he has one pending case involving Best, but he doesn’t believe it will be affected by Best’s admission. He said he believes he has an obligation to review past cases involving Best, but has no way of identifying those and hopes the DA’s office can provide a list.
Bogaty said the DA’s office provided such a list to his office.
A message left with Best after hours Tuesday was not returned.
President Judge Francis J. Fornelli declined to comment, noting that Mercer County’s judges might have to rule if any defense attorneys file any actions concerning Best-related cases.
According to officials, Best reported to McElhinny on Sept. 8 that he had lied under oath at a preliminary hearing and a suppression hearing in a drunken driving case filed and closed in 2008. Officials did not release any identifying information about the case, and Kochems said he would not give it out.
“I’m not sure he deserves to have his name dragged out there again,” McElhinny said of the defendant.
Best was immediately suspended and resigned Sept. 16. He will not be charged with a crime, Kochems said.
The police department and DA’s office reviewed all of Best’s cases in which someone was arrested, more than 340, to determine if “the criminal justice process has been compromised.”
As part of the review, Best was interviewed and underwent a polygraph examination. He “complied completely in all other matters required of him,” Kochems said.
“After review of the cases, including the one where the statement was made, it does not appear the standard for a new trial will be met in any case,” the DA said.
In the case at issue, Best responded to a call of a reckless driver in February 2008, and a witness followed the driver home, McElhinny said. Best knocked on the door of the driver’s home, identified the person as having driven the car, and observed signs of intoxication.
The driver failed sobriety tests and a blood test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.21, more than twice the legal limit, McElhinny said.
The discrepancy was whether Best touched the car’s tail pipe – to determine whether it was still hot and would have recently been driven – before he approached the house or afterward.
The issue goes to whether Best had probable cause, McElhinny said.
“Because of the discrepancy between Best’s police report and his trial testimony, the judge stated on the record that he would not consider the statement as evidence in his decision,” Kochems said.
The judge did not suppress other evidence, and the defendant later pleaded guilty, McElhinny said.
However, the case stayed with Best, McElhinny said.
“It bothered him greatly, to the point where he had to come forward and tell me about it,” the chief said.
McElhinny added there was no suspicion of misconduct by Best in that case or any other prior to Best’s admission.
“Dennis Best stated that after praying and consulting with his pastor he needed to come forward because what he had done was wrong and he needed to be accountable for his actions that he knew were serious,” McElhinny said. “He reported that this was the only incident in his career where he had been untruthful. Dennis Best knew his admissions would cost him his career in law enforcement and put him at risk of criminal prosecution.”
Best had no explanation for lying, said McElhinny, who described Best as “a very good officer.”
Kochems said an announcement in the Mercer County Law Journal and letters to defense attorneys and unrepresented defendants serve as notice “so that individuals may consider and take any procedural action they deem appropriate.”
McElhinny wrote of the “unique influence” a policeman holds, “and the accompanying responsibility.”
“Dennis Best was part of the Hermitage Police Department family,” the chief said. “The department does not condone his actions and regrets the damage done to his reputation and the reputation of the Hermitage Police Department. The department cares about Dennis and his family and hope that he is able to come to terms with his actions and believe that his coming forward was an important first step in doing so.
“The officers of this department strive to exemplify the highest standards of professional ethics and this aberrant behavior is not accepted by them individually or collectively. The Hermitage Police Department has proudly served the community with honor and integrity and will continue to do so.”
Bogaty took exception to McElhinny’s statement.
“I think the chief really missed the point,” Bogaty said. “The point is that it is an offense to our judicial system. It is shocking and appalling. I’m pretty offended by it.”
Whether you characterize the lie as significant or minor, the fact of the matter is that a member of law enforcement lied before a court in an attempt to gain a conviction in a criminal case. While it is almost impossible to prove, conduct similar to this occurs countless times throughout the county.
In the event you have been arrested for driving under the influence, or any other criminal offense, make sure to contact a criminal defense attorney who can assist you in preparing a defense.