Anyone who has known someone that has been convicted of a DUI, or who has themselves had the unfortunate experience of suffering the consequences of a DUI, might know that there is the possibility of a obtaining a restricted license during the period of time where driving privileges are suspended. While driving privileges might be restricted during this time, a driver can still drive to and from work with a restricted license.
If a law enforcement officer happens to get caught for a DUI, wouldn’t we expect to hold the officer to the same standard as the rest of us drivers, possibly even a higher standard?
I bring this up because a police officer from Melbourne, Florida is now back behind the wheel of her police cruiser after having been charged with DUI while off duty back in September.
Audrey Poole of the Melbourne Police Department was pulled over for driving 20mph above the speed limit in Palm Bay. Her arrest affidavit as well as a statement from the arresting officer indicates that her eyes were bloodshot, and she smelled of alcohol even before she attempted field sobriety tests. She allegedly failed multiple field sobriety tests and refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, which led to her arrest. The interaction was even caught on dashboard camera footage.
Poole had been working in dispatch since 2012 and was hired as an officer in March 2018. After the arrest, she was suspended for a week without pay, then was placed on administrative leave with pay until Nov. 12th and was assigned desk duty. Under Florida law, she automatically lost her license for one year for refusing a chemical test. A month after the arrest, the state attorney’s office dismissed the DUI charge. According to Assistant State Attorney Leo Domenick, “Although there is sufficient evidence of probable cause for the arrest, based on the lack of a breath (Blood Alcohol Concentration) test, combined with the defendant’s performance on the field sobriety exercises, there is no reasonable likelihood of success at a jury trial.” After two months, Poole was reinstated and allowed to drive a Melbourne police cruiser under a “business purpose only” license which allows her to drive during her on duty hours.
Following the dismissal of charges, she was disciplined for multiple department violations, including conduct unbecoming of an officer, non-compliance with the law, and unlawful consumption of alcohol. In addition, she was also required to complete an alcohol education course and had her probationary status as a new officer extended.
According to some local DUI lawyers, a complete dismissal is unusual for Poole’s case. “It’s pretty rare that you see cases completely dropped, but every case is different. They might get knocked down to a reckless driving or a careless driving sometimes, but with more refusals they won’t negotiate… a dismissal,” says Melbourne-based DUI lawyer Mark Germain.
However, despite earlier reports that Poole failed multiple field sobriety tests, State Attorney spokesperson Todd Brown explained that the lack of a breath test and Poole’s actual performance on the field sobriety tests were sufficient enough to make the burden of proof for trial difficult to meet. Since prosecutors also have an obligation to drop charges that do not meet the burden of proof, it was decided that they would drop the charges. He believes that a member of the public charged in the same circumstances would have resulted in the same conclusion.
Let’s put aside the question that we have regarding the dropped charges for a moment. As an officer of the law, who is supposed to be enforcing the very laws that she disregarded, she was allowed to apply for and was approved for a “business only” license during her license suspension period.
There are multiple factors that can be considered to reach the conclusion that was reached. Poole was off duty, so the charge should have no bearing towards the responsibility she holds during her on duty hours. No chemical test seemed to have taken place, even after her arrest, so there is no factual evidence that she was over the legal limit. Because the charges were dropped, there is no conviction on her record. These are all arguments to allow her to continue to drive for work purposes. Would the same treatment have been given to a non-police officer?
When it comes to the actual charges, at least here in California, Poole would have been charged with a DUI. Prosecutors here in California have actually said that they would rather go to trial and lose a DUI case for lack of evidence than to dismiss it for lack of evidence. As the local DUI attorneys have pointed out, it’s extremely rare for a prosecutor to dismiss a DUI case give the facts of Poole’s case. In fact, drivers have been charged with a DUI with much less evidence than in Poole’s case.
Again, questions remain: Had Poole been anyone other than an officer, would she have been treated differently? Probably. Would she have been approved for the “business only” driving license? Probably not. Are police held to a different standard when it comes to DUI prosecutions than the rest of us? Although I’d like to answer in the negative, Poole’s case has me thinking otherwise.