To have and to hold…..How long can the Sheriff’s Office hold accident evidence under investigation?

We have the pleasure of representing a family who lost their mother in a tragic car accident with a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy. The car accident occurred on April 11, 2016, approximately 4 months ago – and to date, the family has been denied access to the vehicle, denied access to the findings of the investigation and denied access to any other evidence. The Sheriff’s Office has still not returned their mother’s vehicle to the family, nor granted the family access to view the vehicle. This begs the question, is 4 months a reasonable time period to withhold evidence from a family who is seeking answers?

The Sheriff’s Office has declined to allow the family access to the evidence and information they are seeking based on La. R.S. § 44:3. La. R.S. § 44:3 is a special law in Louisiana which allows the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney to deny access to evidence “pertaining to a pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated…” Per our communications with the Sheriff’s Office, it is standard operating procedure for every accident involving a deputy to be presented to the District Attorney’s Office. Once presented to the District Attorney’s Office, the reviewing attorney will determine whether anyone involved in the accident will be prosecuted. Other than this law, their are no other guidelines which govern the timeliness of an accident investigation or the District Attorney’s review period.

Timeliness in an accident investigation is critical. Today vehicles retain and store information in what are popularly known as a”black box” or event data recorder. Manufactures have been putting black boxes and event data recorders in vehicles since the mid 1990s. For an interesting article on black boxes and their history, check out this article by USA Today.

These black boxes and event data recorders store information including the speed of vehicles, steering angles, airbag deployment times and more. They have become critical pieces of evidence in automobile accident investigations. Timely and proper access to this information is imperative in conducting a fault analysis, and without timely and proper access to the information, it can be lost, destroyed or manipulated. With the increasing advent of technology, it is time the State of Louisiana re-thinks La. R.S. § 44:3.

Due to the lack of response to the family’s request for evidence from the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office, we filed suit on behalf of the family to ensure the evidence was properly preserved. We also filed a Motion with the Court to allow an expert to have access to the vehicle to extract the information from the black box or event data recorder. Filing a Motion such as this is one of the only ways to preserve critical information in an auto accident which is pending criminal investigation. At the Cardone Law Firm, we employ inventive Motion practice to get around laws which may prejudice our clients and their rights. On the day we filed the lawsuit, The Advocate wrote an article about our actions and the length of the investigation. For all interested, this is a case to follow.

For more information visit our website or phone Cardone for a free confidential consultation at: 504-522-3333.

Photograph copyright of Chris Granger and Times Picayune.

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