Is a Body Worn Police Video Better For My Case Than a Dashcam?
Many states have passed laws in the past few years requiring police officers to record their official interactions with citizens via body worn video cameras. Colorado is one of the states that has passed laws requiring police to wear body cameras. Of course these same rule apply to Colorado officers making DUI stops.
There are a number of reasons why this shift in public policy has become so important. Police abuse of force is one of the most commonly cited reasons for current video camera policies. Video cameras on the scene of arrests can also preserve important evidence to help officers make cases. In some cases though, that video evidence can be to the benefit of a citizen accused of a crime.
How Does a DUI Lawyer Use an Arrest Video?
The scene video of a DUI arrest is usually the most important piece of evidence in building a defense to a DUI charge. If all drivers suspected of DUI were judged strictly on what police officers write in their reports, there would be very little a DUI lawyer could do for a client. Even when they KNOW everything is being video recorded, many police officers continue to exaggerate what they believe to be incriminating details and leave out details that may question the correctness of their arrest decision. The best DUI lawyers carefully compare the events recorded in video evidence and compare them to the words used by officers in their reports and forms. More often than not, the video will not support everything an officer claims in their reports.
A scene video from a DUI arrest can also show evidence of sobriety. A top rated DUI lawyer will carefully examine video evidence for the absence of impairment. Normal talking... normal walking... speech that is not slurred ... Officers will rarely mention these details in their reports. It would very unfair for a one-sided story to be told in court without ALL evidence being considered.
In some DUI arrests, the use of body cams can put a driver at a disadvantage compared to dash mounted cameras that have been in use since the 1980s. The following are some considerations that are drawbacks of body cameras compared to the information provided by dash cameras in DUI stops.
REASON FOR THE DUI STOP
The first downside to body video compared to dashcams is the absence of observations of driving. Body cameras fail to record how a DUI defendant is driving before the officer steps out of the car. In my work as a DUI defense attorney, I have used dashcam video to show my client was illegally stopped in MANY cases. When there is a dashcam video, an allegation of weaving or running a red light will be there or it will not. When an officer knows the driving is not being recorded, it leaves them more room to claim driving behavior occurred that did not. In cases where there is no dashcam it is not uncommon for officers to write that a driver "... almost hit my patrol car."
BALANCE AND SWAYING
Dash mounted police cameras do a much better job of preserving evidence that a driver is standing up straight and not swaying. A body worn camera is often so close to a driver when the officer is speaking to them that the video does not offer any way to question whether a person is swaying or staggering. Any DUI lawyer would want to be able to see if a person is actually swaying, as officers almost always write in their DUI arrest reports.
When DUI officers administer roadside balancing tests, body cameras rarely record the entire body or how the feet are positioned. This again, is because the camera is just too close to get the whole perspective. The image to the left shows how clearly a dashcam would show how a driver performs a DUI roadside maneuver. I have also seen officers pretend to accidentally block a body cam with their arm or their jacket, or look another direction when a driver is performing DUI roadsides well. Dashcams do not allow such as easy denial of evidence of innocence.
There is a long list of reasons why body worn cameras are an important tool to improve the quality of police work in Colorado. They have the potential to reduce the use of excessive force and also keep officers honest when they write their reports. This article is simply to point out some of the drawbacks body cams have introduced to DUI defense lawyers compared to dash camera videos.