The use of a public disclosure request in defending a DUI charge

One of the most important tools every Seattle DUI Lawyer should have at their disposal is the “public disclosure request.” In a DUI case it is important to gather as much evidence as possible in order to prepare a proper and thorough defense. Typically most Prosecutors will hand over a DUI police report, the breath test results, and maybe a CAD report (timeline of events from Police officer). However in many instances there is much more evidence that can be gathered, and the experienced DUI Attorney will be able to find it through different methods of investigation, the use of subpoena’s, and of course the public disclosure request.

So what is a public disclosure request. RCW 42.56 titled the Public Record Disclosure Act states a public record is, “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic.”

A writing is described as any “means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films and prints, motion picture, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, diskettes, sound recordings, and other documents including existing data compilations from which information may be obtained or translated”

So what does this mean? Basically in any DUI case a person can request certain “writings” under the Public Disclosure Act, without the need for a subpoena, and it must be produced by the particular agency that has it.

In every DUI case, Leyba Defense PLLC routinely asks for certain items under this act. These include audio/video recordings, additional police reports made by the arresting officer, additional documents from the State Toxicologist concerning our clients breath/blood test results, all booking room photos and/or recordings. As I stated before these things generally are not produced by the Prosecution, and unless they are requested, nobody will ever know about them.

Probably the most important item to obtain under this act is any and all audio/video recordings. In this day and age most law enforcement agencies have in car police video cameras, and video cameras in the breath testing room. Although police officers generally write a report on why an individual was arrested for a DUI, sometimes these reports are biased, and in a few cases, just flat out incorrect. An audio/video recording of the incident is gold in the sense that it will show exactly why a person was contacted by law enforcement, how they were acting during the investigation, and whether the arresting officer properly administered the field sobriety tests and breath tests.

Here are two recent examples of how we used the Public Disclosure Act to our clients benefit. In one DUI case recently we made a request for all audio/video recordings of a client while they were being processed at the police precinct. We received a video of the police officer administering the breath test to our client. Now even though in the police report the arresting officer stated “the breath test was administered properly and all protocols were followed.” This video showed the test was not administered correctly and therefore it was not admissible. As a result of this investigation an excellent plea deal was worked out, and a DUI conviction was avoided.

The other example occurred when we requested the last 25 DUI arrest reports from a particular officer. When we received these reports it was clear the arresting officer was just copying and pasting the same observations, and performance on the field sobriety test for every person they arrested. This officer was not properly documenting every cases individually, but just writing the same thing in every report. As a result of this we were able to impeach the officers credibility during a pretrial motion hearing, and shortly thereafter a dismissal and reduction in charges was offered by the Prosecutor.

Obviously things like this dont happen in every DUI case, but if all investigation is not exhausted completely a proper and complete defense is not being put forward. And in the end, the client will suffer not the attorney. At Leyba Defense PLLC we will explore and exhaust all avenues for investigation, and will always put on the best defense possible. If you have been arrested for a DUI in Seattle or by any other law enforcement agency in Western Washington, please contact us immediately to set up a free 60 minute consultation that is completely confidential.