Evidence of Detective Florida DUI Thrown Out
By: Chris Kramer
A judge in Florida has ruled that Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies made a huge mistake when they arrested one of their own detectives for Florida DUI after a car crash last year. Because of that mistake, the DUI case against former Detective Jason Fitzwater has become pretty weak, as the judge has found that the evidence against him is inadmissible in court.
On August 26, Fitzwater was on-call when he and two other detectives went to a bar. The men were all SWAT members at the time and all admit to drinking at the bar before leaving and going to a second bar. Later, Fitzwater caused almost $5,000 in damages to the sheriff's vehicle that he was driving when he hit a concrete lane divider. After the accident, he called a superior officer who contacted Lt. Dale Couch. When Couch arrived, he assumed that Fitzwater had been drinking and began a DUI investigation.
Manatee County Civil Judge Doug Henderson found that Fitzwater was not told that he was being investigated for a Florida DUI charge after the accident. The law requires that police officers that conduct accident investigations inform a suspect if they are going to begin a DUI investigation. If the officer suspects that a person has been drinking and driving but fails to inform them that a DUI investigation is beginning, all of the evidence collected, including the officer's observations, statements and breath tests, are inadmissible in court.
During a pre-trial hearing, Fitzwater's Florida DUI lawyers told the court that the deputies never told Fitzwater that he was under investigation for a Florida DUI charge. Although Fitzwater, 29, was a detective at the time and they may have assumed that he knew that they were investigating him for drunk driving, the law applies to everyone. Since they failed to inform him of the DUI investigation, Henderson ruled that all of the evidence that may have been used to convict Fitzwater of Florida DUI would be inadmissible in court.
It was a victory for Fitzwater, whose Florida DUI lawyers had filed a motion to suppress the evidence in the case. Henderson's ruling means that the state's case against Fitzwater is falling apart. His breathalyzer and field sobriety test results will not be able to used against him at the DUI trial.
Fitzwater's DUI lawyers say that his arrest for Florida DUI was unlawful and Henderson's ruling supports their position. Henderson found that rather than collecting solid evidence that Fitzwater was actually driving prior to his DUI arrest, the deputies relied on second-hand information. Because of the lack of evidence, Henderson found that there was no probable cause for a DUI investigation or arrest in the case.
According to the Bradenton Herald, Fitzwater will still go on trial for Florida DUI in May despite the judge's ruling. He resigned from the sheriff's department on October 5.