Law enforcement agencies across the country are now implementing body cameras to be worn by officers while on duty to record their entire interactions with the public. This has left many people with questions on what to expect if an arresting officer was wearing and recording from a body camera.
The video obtained from those cameras is having an impact in courtrooms as the additional evidence available to both the prosecution and defendants. If the video is available from a police body camera in your case, it could potentially strengthen or weaken your defense. The video footage could document any improper actions taken by law enforcement during any searches, questioning, or traffic stops. If the video records evidence that an officer failed to establish probable cause, or used coercion to obtain consent, then any evidence uncovered during the search or stop would be suppressed. On the other hand, if the video shows the officer properly conducted the search or stop the defendant would likely not be able to have the evidence suppressed.
Videos from police body cameras also provide another account of events during the officer’s contact with the defendant in addition to the officer’s written report. For example, in DUI cases, officers tend to use generic, standardized phrases in their reports to describe a defendant’s condition or behavior at the time of arrest, often using the same language in the majority of DUI cases, and it can be difficult to later contradict the officer’s report as officers may be the only available witnesses to the defendant’s behavior and condition at the time of the stop. If video footage is available, it could strengthen the defendant’s case by providing more objective evidence of defendant’s condition, although if the video shows the defendant behaving in a way that is clearly indicative of intoxication it would be more favorable to the prosecution.
Trials can often become a circumstance of ‘he said, she said’ between the defense and prosecution. Law enforcement officers may also provide inaccurate or false information in their reports and testimony for a multitude of reasons, often times in the favor of the prosecution. Jurors are likely to find an officer more credible than someone charged with a crime. Body camera footage would provide more objective evidence than just the police report and the officer’s testimony.
Jurors may come to expect to see body camera footage as evidence in a trial as body cameras become more widely used by law enforcement, and jurors may become inherently distrustful towards the prosecution’s case if body cameras were not used. This effect on jurors was also observed when the forensic evidence became widely available. It can also damage a prosecutor’s case if the law enforcement agency has a clear policy indicating when the cameras should be recording and the officers were not in compliance, resulting in no video being available.
Video footage may also impact either the defendant or prosecution’s case negatively if it contradicts eyewitness testimony for either party. Eyewitnesses often struggle to recollect information accurately, especially if substantial time has passed before trial. The video footage would remain objective but could lead jurors to find eyewitnesses not credible if their testimony conflicts with the evidence to even slight degrees.
So there you have it. Every case will be different when it comes to police body cameras. The public is demanding more accurate evidence at the scene of the crime and it seems police body cameras are the way it will be provided.