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Fraud Investigation into Phoenix Police Officer Could Harm DUI Cases

Many drunken-driving cases in Phoenix could be altered or dismissed because city prosecutors are refusing to disclose in court that there is a criminal investigation against a Phoenix officer who handles DUI cases.

Phoenix police have spent the past nine months investigating allegations that Officer Jerry Schuiteboer dumped his pickup in the desert and collected more than $14,000 in an insurance settlement. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is reviewing criminal-fraud charges submitted by Phoenix investigators.

The failure to disclose information to defense attorneys that could raise doubts about the officer’s truthfulness and reliability prevents suspects from having the opportunity to challenge Schuiteboer’s credibility in court and leaves them making ill- informed plea deals or makes it difficult to impeach the Officer’s testimony on the stand.

City prosecutors have resisted attempts from DUI attorneys to disclose Schuiteboer’s potential truthfulness issues in court. The fact that prosecutors refuse to disclose the allegations against Schuiteboer during pretrial proceedings could jeopardize those cases and others in which defendants have pleaded guilty.

Schuiteboer claimed he walked out of a Glendale hardware store at about 3:15 on a Friday afternoon in January 2011 and found that his 12-year-old Ford pickup was missing. Schuiteboer then called Glendale police and asked the responding officer to meet him at a Westgate Entertainment District bar, where he could fill out the stolen-vehicle report. Buckeye police found the truck nearly two weeks later in the desert stripped of valuables and with damage to the steering column as if it had been stolen.

Schuiteboer claimed the truck was worth about $16,000 and received an insurance payment of more than $14,000, according to the records. Phoenix police began investigating Schuiteboer in September, when a man claimed he picked Schuiteboer up in January 2011 from a desert area near where the truck was discovered.

Phoenix prosecutors have stated in court filings that it is premature for attorneys to try to bar Schuiteboer’s testimony in DUI cases. One filing from late May argues that Schuiteboer is facing an ongoing internal police investigation, which is neither a public record nor admissible in court.

“Because it is pending, it has not been found that Officer Schuiteboer did anything wrong which would reflect negatively on his character,” Phoenix prosecutor Andrea Gutiérrez wrote.

The defense attorneys who want the allegations against Schuiteboer to be disclosed as part of their clients’ cases take a different view, citing U.S. Supreme Court decisions. They argue that information that could be favorable to the defense or cast doubt on a verdict is information that prosecutors are obligated to disclose. The need is particularly acute in DUI cases where officers like Schuiteboer, who is certified to draw blood, can act as the arresting officer or serve as the expert on how physical evidence was handled.

The frustration among defense attorneys increased Friday as they learned of the search warrant, which The Arizona Republic printed from a court computer open to the public.

If you have been charged with a DUI or Drug related DUI, contact the Arizona criminal defense lawyers at Oracle Law Group Office P.C. for assistance with your criminal case.