Forty DUI cases are now being reviewed by the State Attorney’s Office because of the controversial involvement of one Tampa Police Department officer.
Tampa Police Sgt. Ray Fernandez, involved with these 40 cases, was recently fired from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) because of his involvement in the arrest of Tampa attorney Phil Campbell, whose DUI charge was dropped after an investigation into whether his arrest was a set up to be connected to the high profile trial of two popular Tampa radio personalities, Todd “MJ” Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said he was dismissed for lying and destroying evidence implementing him in a set-up DUI arrest.
But should potentially guilty suspects be free because of unrelated high-profile controversy involving Fernandez?
HCSO has already confirmed 12 DUI cases were dropped because Fernandez made the initial traffic stop. These cases will not go to trial.
Castor said Fernandez broke the code of conduct by conducting himself without professionalism and therefore cannot be a trusted witness, even though he has been a part of the HCSO for 19 years. This leaves almost two decades of DUI arrests to be potentially overturned if Fernandez conducted them.
If these were cases of manslaughter or homicide, it most definitely would not be ethical to drop the cases and free the accused without any further trial. DUIs should not be treated any differently because a drunk driver could have potentially killed an innocent life if the police hadn’t arrested him or her first.
The State Justice Department indicates in the 2012 there were 61,852 DUI arrests in Florida. Even though 12 dropped DUI cases and 40 pending does not seem significant compared to 61,852 it should still be considered unethical.
No two drivers under the influence should be treated differently.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, one arrest blew twice the alcohol level for a DUI conviction in Florida, but that person is one of the 12 whose case has been dropped. If a breathalyzer test proves a BAC level was higher than the 0.08 limit, the cases should not be dropped.
The justice system has failed, leaving potentially guilty individuals to continue on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened.
Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy said hopefully being in handcuffs and take to jail was enough to change the drunk drivers’ behavior. While a scare may be enough, it is still unethical to drop the cases considering the number of other DUI convictions that still had to fulfill their sentences.
Demi Danowit is a senior
majoring in mass communications.