Until It Happens to You…

Dallas Police Officer Senior Corporal Adam Conway has undoubtedly arrested numerous individuals for Driving While Intoxicated. But the 15-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department has been on administrative leave since last May when he got caught doing exactly that. Saturday, May 25th, Conway took part in a funeral escort for former Dallas Firefighter Stanley Wilson with other motorcycle units. Afterwards, he and the other officers stopped for drinks at a bar. On the way home Conway got into a three-car accident in Rockwall where Rockwall P.D. arrested him for suspicion of DWI.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Conway admitted at the scene to drinking “like two beers” after initially denying drinking at all. Eventually two became three, and the officers at the scene reported that he had alcohol on his breath and slurred his words. After he refused to submit to a blood draw voluntarily, Rockwall P.D. secured a warrant and drew his blood. His BAC was recorded to be .187–more than twice the legal limit and enough to elevate the charge to a Class A misdemeanor. There is not much to say other than hope seemed lost for Conway….

Or not. Earlier this week the Rockwall District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Conway citing a “potential procedural error with the blood test.” The article does not disclose what the potential error was, but a few common errors come to mind. Warrants, for example, signed by a magistrate judge from another country are invalid. Or if police make an incorrect statement to a suspect about their rights during the process of obtaining a warrant the warrant may be tainted. Or the warrant could have omitted necessary facts and thus not met the requirements of a valid warrant. Without more information, we can only speculate as to what rendered Conway’s warrant invalid.

In Conway’s case, he may still face significant consequences for his DWI charge. As of Wednesday, October 16th, Conway is still on administrative leave from the Dallas Police Department, which is conducting its own investigation to determine what took place last May. But for many, a botched warrant or other procedural error is essentially a get out of jail free card. If, for example, a judge determined that a search of a vehicle or home was unconstitutional, then all evidence obtained as a result of that search is inadmissible in court. It doesn’t matter if police find 100 tons of cocaine in a trunk. If they didn’t have the right to look, the evidence does not come in to court no matter how “guilty” you are.

This is a concept that non-lawyers often struggle with. Most people are uncomfortable with individuals escaping punishment because of a police error or other technicality. But this is an absolutely vital part of our legal system and one of the (many) reasons why defense attorneys are so important to securing YOUR rights. Imagine a world where police did not have to follow rules, where police could arrest anyone and everyone for whatever or no reason. Do you want to live in that world? Of course not. But cops are humans and make mistakes, sometimes accidentally, sometimes maliciously. If it weren’t for defense attorneys scouring over every single police document or dash cam video, these errors would never be found. Police would not self-report their mistakes, and prosecutors certainly would not bring them to the judges attention voluntarily. That takes someone whose soul job is to look after YOU.

I can imagine there a few things more embarrassing for a police officer than committing a mistake that keeps evidence out of court. And I’m sure once that happens the officer does not make the same mistake twice. Good. We as citizens have the right to expect an exceptional level of professionalism from our police officers. We have the right to expect that they will respect our rights no matter who we are or what we allegedly did. Rights are meaningless if they are discarded whenever convenient. So rest assured that there are defense attorneys all over the country keeping cops and prosecutors in check. And never forget that a world with tyrannical cops is infinitely worse than a world where a few people get off on technicalities.