Why Body Cameras Are Good For Criminal Defense Attorneys

 

When police activate their body cameras, they are ensuring that all events transpired between themselves and a member of the public are recorded. This holds police officers accountable for their actions, as they cannot lie and make up events that are on video. Body cameras are good for criminal defense attorneys because they help to capture all police activity, ensuring that officers cannot abuse their power. When a client’s recollection of events disagrees with the police report, the body camera video is looked to next in order to confirm one side over the other. Some police officers deliberately mute their cameras, making sure that their conversations are not recorded and held against them. While the police use the excuse that they were having a private conversation with other officers in regards to the case, it shines a light on how easily body cameras can be manipulated. Even though there is no exact law preventing this, bringing this topic up in court is a good way for the defense to prove that nobody knows the true story due to the officer’s actions. 

 

Body cameras are also great for the defense when the police lose evidence, putting the defendant at a disadvantage. Criminal Defense Attorneys are able to bring this to the attention of the jury, explaining that they would have had the opportunity to see what had happened if not for the police’s faulty use of their body cameras. When the body camera video depicts the same story told by the defendant, the video is useful to prove their innocence in court. The video is also especially beneficial for times when the police have lied in their reports or testimonies, providing evidence that can be used against the State. 

 

How The Rossen Law Firm Has Used Body Worn Cameras To Win Criminal And DUI Cases

 

DUI Case with .159 breath test results in acquittal at trial. 

 

In July 2018, I got a call from a man named Norbert, who said that he was arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in the South Florida area. Norbert was pulled over for failing to slow down next to an emergency vehicle, as well as rapidly accelerating at a green light. The police reported that Norbert was visibly drunk, with bloodshot eyes. Norbert agreed to complete DUI Field Sobriety Test Exercises, telling the police officer that he was bitten by a shark in his butt that impaired his walking abilities. Nevertheless, the police officers had Norbert complete Field Sobriety Exercises, which were altered due to his accident. Upon further examination of the body camera footage, it was clear to me that Norbert did not have bloodshot eyes and that his normal walk matched how he completed the exercises. I was able to use this footage in court, showing how the body camera footage did not match up to the police’s story. Because of my emphasis on the contradictory body camera video, Norbert was found not guilty in court.

 

Man arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana reduced to a misdemeanor after contradictory body camera evidence. 

 

While driving in Weston, a man named Guillermo was pulled over for having windows that were tinted too dark. When talking to the police, the officers claimed that Guillermo smelled like weed. The police that pulled Guillermo over were actually undercover drug cops, and they were wearing body cameras during the entire interaction. The cops bullied Guillermo and tried to intimidate him into confessing that he on weed on him, but he called me instead to help get him out of the unfortunate situation. The body camera video caught the police officers violating Guillermo’s Miranda Rights, as they continued to ask him incriminating questions after he said that he wanted a lawyer. We were able to use this video to show that Guillermo was abused, as well as the fact that the police did not include their intimidation tactics in their police report. I was able to get Guillermo time served on a misdemeanor instead of the proposed felony, all because of the body camera video.

 

Man arrested with pounds of marijuana cleared after body camera evidence shows the police violated his rights. 

 

A third client that I was able to help fight his charges because of the body camera video is a man named Eric. When Eric was pulled over, the police officers found weed on him. Not just a little bit of weed but 5 pounds of weed.  Eric was looking at many years in jail.  The officers decided to detain Eric on the side of the road until the drug cops came, leaving him there longer than the time it would take to write a ticket. In the police report, the officers said that Eric was extremely nervous and his voice kept cracking when they would ask him questions. When I examined the body camera footage, there were many inconsistencies with the police report. Especially, Eric’s voice never cracked during the time that he talked to the police. I was able to use this video and the fact that Eric was detained unlawfully on the side of the road to prove that Eric was abused by the police. I filed a motion to suppress alleging this illegal conduct by the police.  On the day of the motion, the prosecutors offered a deal that was too good to pass up.  Eric agreed to a minor misdemeanor and moved on with his life. 

 

Why Body Cameras Are Good For The Prosecutor

 

Body cameras can also be a secret weapon for the State in court. Body cameras are supposed to capture all video and audio, and may reveal certain events that were omitted from the police report. If a defendant has slurred speech or is argumentative with an officer, the camera will show details that were previously subjective. A defendant’s actions are also emphasized with the addition of body camera footage, like if a defendant is constantly cursing or yelling. These can be used to define character and tell a story in court, sometimes painting the defendant in an even worse light. It is important to always be polite, calm, and respectful with the police officer you are interacting with no matter what, especially so that the body camera footage cannot be used against you in any way shape or form.

 

Tips For Interacting With Police Officers

 

When arrested or pulled over in the South Florida, Fort Lauderdale, area, you have the right to ensure that the police officer’s body camera is on. You also have the right to ask the officer to turn off their body camera, but their compliance depends on how serious they feel the situation actually is. If you are arrested, you have the right to request the body camera footage in order to be prepared for court or other legal situations. For Broward County, footage costs $30 an hour for the police to review and redact the video.

 

At the end of the day, body cameras are recording devices that store audio and video files, making it is up to the individual officer to go and upload all of the videos each day into the main evidence server. There is an abnormal amount of user error resulting in loss of footage, which could be the difference between the state filing charges against a person or not. While intimidating, body cameras are used to uncover the truth of police-community interactions. Remember that you ALWAYS have the right to ask a police officer about their body camera, and that their purpose is to make sure that members of the public are not taken advantage of. 

 

Body Cameras Worn by Fort Lauderdale Police

 

As of December 2018, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has required its officers to activate body cameras whenever they are interacting with members of the public. However, officers are given the discretion to tell the public whether or not their body cameras are in use. When the cameras are on, officers must keep the camera activated throughout the entire event and document the use of a body camera if used during an interview, interrogation, or statement. However, a police officer is required to keep their camera on when interacting with a suspect, no matter if the suspect asks for it to be turned off. Officers can also turn off their cameras when talking to other police officers, hiding what they are saying from being recorded.

 

Body Cameras Worn by Broward Sheriff's Office

 

The Broward Sheriff’s Office has also started wearing body cameras, with a policy similar to Fort Lauderdale. All cameras must be on while interacting with members of the public, but they can be turned off when necessary to make a member of the public feel more comfortable.

 

Body Cameras Worn by Coral Springs Police

 

The Coral Springs Police Department first tested wearing body cameras in 2013, with their primary purpose of recording DUI investigations. Due to the positive feedback by officers and the public, the department made body cameras a part of their uniform in 2016. The cameras are supposed to be on at all times, in order to increase transparency between an officer and whoever they are interacting with. 

 

Body cameras are not mandated by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Plantation Police Department, Margate Police Department, or Davie Police Department.

 

The Basics of Body Worn Cameras Under Florida Law 

 

When talking to or interacting with a police officer in full uniform, you should notice a tiny, flashing light coming from the center of their chest. This is a body camera — a wearable audio and photographic device that records a police officer’s every move. The purpose of body cameras is to capture what actually goes down when police are involved so that there is no guessing when the video is recalled and examined. 

 

While used as a means of documenting interactions between the police and the public, body cameras are not used to substitute an officer’s beliefs and perceptions from an event. A camera only captures the view from a particular person, and may not account for the entire situation and other participant's perspectives. However, police officers are allowed to review their body camera footage before making a decision regarding a case.

 

Most body cameras are attached to a police officer’s uniform by either a clip or velcro. This allows agencies to not order new uniforms when incorporating body cameras into their units but has lead to accidents with their cameras. There have been plenty of cases where an officer was chasing or fighting with a subject, causing their body camera to be ripped off of their chest. This leaves both the police officer and defendant with no evidence of the incident.

 

Florida law does not require law enforcement agencies to install body cameras within their units, but it does require those departments that have cameras to adhere to specific protocols and regulations. This includes proper training, correct maintenance, and careful storage of body cameras. Some law enforcement agencies choose to use body cameras as a safety net in regards to complaints about officer interactions. Other agencies, however, feel that body cameras make witnesses and members of the community uncomfortable, causing them to share less information with the police. Police officers are also supposed to wear their cameras anytime that they are on duty, in order to capture all events and interactions. Florida law also requires departments that use body cameras to follow the proper regulations on how to preserve and maintain footage within their department’s database. 

Adam Rossen
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South Florida Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney
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