When a car accident occurs, can the police officer rely on statements made by persons involved in the crash or those who conducted their investigation before the police arrived? This was the key question asked by the defendant in State v. Cino, 931 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).
Can Police Rely on Information Shared by Persons Not Involved in the Accident?
It all happened on December 1, 2002. Sergeant Phillip Buster of the Casselberry Police Department responded to the site of a reported auto accident. When he arrived, he talked to both parties involved in the crash. The sergeant also observed that one of them, Christian Hunter Cino, smelled of alcohol and exhibited “very slurred speech.”
When police officer Scott Munn arrived at the scene, the sergeant reported his observations to the officer. The officer then immediately initiated a DUI investigation and read Miranda rights to the driver who, based on the sergeant’s observations, appeared to be impaired by alcohol.
However, Cino waived his rights and admitted to not only driving one of the vehicles involved in the collision but also that he had just left a bar after drinking four or five beers. During his DUI case, Cino suppressed the statements he had made after the officer read him his Miranda rights. Cino’s defense argued that the accident report privilege under Florida Statutes § 316.066(4) prohibited the sergeant from legally sharing with the officer any information obtained during his own investigation.
The trial court accepted Cino’s argument. However, contrary to the court’s ruling, § 316.066(4) only prohibits using as admissible evidence at trial either the accident report or any statements made to law enforcement during an investigation by persons involved in the collision. The sergeant was not involved in the crash.
Are Other Persons’ Statements Made to a Police Officer Admissible?
On appeal, the court found that the sergeant’s statements made to the police officer were admissible because:
- Section 316.066(4) did not bar Sergeant Buster from sharing with Officer Munn any information derived from his own traffic investigation;
- The sergeant’s observations did not violate Cino’s privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment;
- Section 316.066(4) did not prohibit the State of Florida from using statements made to the officer during the investigation by persons other than the defendant (Cino); and
- There was sufficient evidence that the sergeant derived from the traffic investigation that the officer could have relied upon without violating Cino’s privilege against self-incrimination.
The State argued that the court erred in holding that § 316.066(4) prohibited Officer Munn from relying on any information made by Sergeant Buster. Under the newer version of the statute, officers are not prohibited from testifying at trial regarding statements made during a traffic investigation by persons other than the defendant.
The purpose of the accident report privilege under § 316.066(4) is to prevent the State of Florida from violating a defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination when they are compelled to truthfully report to law enforcement the facts surrounding their vehicle crash.
If you believe that the police violated your privilege against self-incrimination or your other rights or privileges were violated during a traffic investigation, talk to a Lakeland auto accident attorney. Contact The Turnbull Firm to evaluate your case. Call at 863-324-3500.