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After lawyer is set up by Tampa DUI unit, other cases challenged

In the wake of the recent scandal within the Tampa Police Department’s DUI squad, the police chief has undertaken a reorganization of that unit to decentralize its authority and allow more oversight. She also reassigned the unit’s former head, although no official sanctions have been determined.

The controversy arose after the January DUI arrest of a local attorney right in the middle of a high-profile libel trial between two Tampa radio “shock jocks.” According to a scathing report by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, the DUI arrest was a setup orchestrated by members of the opposing law firm and -- wittingly or not -- the Tampa DUI squad chief and another officer in the unit. The DUI charges against the attorney have been dropped.

That case was apparently not isolated, however. In February, the same former DUI squad chief was involved in another questionable DUI arrest -- that time involving a noted Cuban trade advocate. That advocate’s blood-alcohol content turned out to be 0.00, and the question arose whether his arrest was motivated on demonstrable suspicion of intoxication -- or personal or political bias.

In addition to decentralizing Tampa’s DUI unit, the chief of police also announced that a panel of six independent experts, including a former judge, a representative of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,  two former Tampa police DUI supervisors and Florida’s statewide prosecutor. The group will review all open cases in which the arresting officer was the former DUI unit chief or the other officer involved in the scandal, along with some 50 other cases chosen at random.

While it is unlikely that many of those DUI cases will be thrown out due to the review, Hillsborough County prosecutors have reportedly already notified 24 people who were arrested for DUI by the two officers so their criminal defense attorneys can evaluate the officers’ credibility. Moreover, whenever prosecutors have information that might help a defendant’s case, they are required by law to turn that information over to the defense. Ensuring the defense is not deprived of a fair defense is one of the cornerstones of due process.

An attorney representing the lawyer whose DUI arrest was set up calls the review panel is merely a “baby step” toward justice unless it is given a broad mandate to probe any aspect of the cases or the DUI unit that they see fit to investigate.

Sources: 

Damore, Delgado, Romanik & Rawlins Damore, Delgado, Romanik & Rawlins

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