The Role of Body Camera Footage In DUI Cases

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Close up of bodycam on a police uniform

Did you know that body cameras are now standard equipment for most law enforcement officers? These small devices provide an unfiltered view of police interactions, capturing every moment of an investigation. In DUI cases, body camera footage is invaluable, offering a clear and objective record of the traffic stop, field sobriety tests, and arrest process. For those facing DUI charges, this footage can be a powerful ally in building a strong defense, revealing any discrepancies or procedural errors. This blog will uncover how this footage can highlight errors in police protocol and support a robust defense, ensuring your rights are protected in the criminal justice system.

Understanding Body Camera Footage

Body cameras are small, wearable devices used by law enforcement officers to record their interactions with the public. These cameras are typically attached to the officer’s uniform, ensuring that a continuous, first-person perspective is captured throughout their shift. The primary purpose of body cameras is to provide transparency, accountability, and an unbiased record of events as they unfold.

How Body Camera Footage is Collected and Stored

When activated, body cameras record video and audio of the officer’s activities. This footage is stored in the camera’s internal memory until it can be uploaded to a secure server. Most law enforcement agencies have strict protocols for managing this data, ensuring that it remains tamper-proof and accessible only to authorized personnel. Officers are trained to activate their body cameras during all official interactions with potential suspects, especially during traffic stops and DUI investigations. The footage is time-stamped and often includes metadata such as GPS coordinates, providing a detailed and accurate account of the events.

Body Camera Footage as Evidence

During a DUI investigation, body camera footage provides a comprehensive view of the officer’s actions and the suspect’s behavior. This includes the initial traffic stop, the administration of field sobriety tests, and the eventual arrest. Body camera footage can capture crucial details such as the suspect’s speech, coordination, and demeanor, which are vital in assessing impairment.

For criminal defense attorneys, body camera footage is invaluable in scrutinizing the following key moments in DUI cases:

  • The Officer’s Reason for the Traffic Stop: The footage can show whether the officer had a legitimate reason for pulling over the suspect, which is crucial in challenging the legality of the stop.
    • Many times, we will also get dash camera footage that is invaluable to an unlawful stop argument that may help get a case dismissed or reduced.
  • The Suspect’s Behavior and Responses: This includes the suspect’s behavior and responses to the officer’s questions, which can be used to argue that the suspect was not impaired or to show that the officer’s interpretations were subjective or biased.
  • Administration of Field Sobriety Tests: The exact manner in which field sobriety tests were conducted can be critical. Footage can reveal if the tests were administered properly and if the environment (e.g., lighting, traffic, weather) might have impacted the suspect’s performance.
    • Field sobriety tests must be instructed and demonstrated properly, as well as under proper conditions with the proper candidate to be reliable evidence of potential impairment.
  • Reading of Miranda Rights: Ensuring that the suspect was informed of their rights is a fundamental part of the arrest process. The footage can confirm whether Miranda rights were read at the appropriate time.
    • This also includes the suspect’s response to being read Miranda rights. Sometimes, there are arguments that the Miranda rights were not truly understood by the defendant and therefore they did not knowingly or intelligently waive their Miranda rights. Again, this is one of the ways we may be able to get certain statements against our clients interests to be determined as inadmissible in court.
  • Conduct During Arrest and Transport: The suspect’s conduct during the arrest and transport to the station can be examined to ensure that they were treated fairly and that no rights were violated.

By carefully analyzing these moments, defense attorneys can identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, challenge the validity of the evidence, and build a strong defense for their clients.

Benefits of Having Body Camera Footage as Evidence

For criminal defense attorneys, body camera footage offers several strategic advantages:

  • Objective Evidence: Body camera footage provides an unbiased, real-time account of the events, reducing reliance on subjective testimony. This can help dismantle claims that are based solely on the officer’s perspective.
  • Highlighting Procedural Errors: Any deviations from standard procedure captured on video can be crucial for the defense. This includes improper administration of sobriety tests or failure to follow legal protocols.
  • Impeaching Credibility: If there are discrepancies between the officer’s report and the body camera footage, it can be used to challenge the officer’s credibility and reliability as a witness.
  • Supporting Alternative Explanations: The footage can help present alternative explanations for the suspect’s behavior, such as medical conditions, nervousness, or other factors unrelated to alcohol or drug impairment.
  • Ensuring Compliance with Legal Standards: Body camera footage can confirm whether all legal standards were met during the stop and arrest, such as the proper execution of a lawful stop and the correct handling of evidence.
  • Mitigating Factors: The footage can also reveal mitigating factors that might not be evident from written reports, such as the suspect’s polite and cooperative behavior, which can be used to argue for reduced charges or penalties.

By leveraging these benefits, defense attorneys can build a compelling case that ensures their clients receive a fair trial and that justice is properly served.

How Attorneys Use Body Camera Footage to Challenge DUIs

Criminal defense attorneys can often obtain body camera footage from police departments, allowing them to scrutinize every detail of a DUI arrest. By meticulously analyzing this footage, defense attorneys can build a strong case to challenge DUI charges effectively. Here are some examples of how this evidence can be used to help a defendant in court:

  1. Procedural Violations: Body camera footage can reveal instances where officers fail to follow proper procedures during a DUI stop or arrest. Such violations might include improper administration of field sobriety tests or failure to read Miranda rights. Highlighting these procedural errors can lead to the suppression of evidence or dismissal of charges.

  2. Contradicting Officer Testimony: Discrepancies between an officer’s written report and the body camera footage can be pivotal. For example, if the officer claims the suspect exhibited slurred speech or unsteady behavior, but the footage shows clear speech and steady movement, this can undermine the officer’s credibility and challenge the prosecution’s case.

  3. Environmental Factors Affecting Sobriety Tests: The footage can demonstrate that the conditions under which field sobriety tests were administered were unsuitable, such as uneven pavement, poor lighting, or inclement weather. These environmental factors can be used to argue that the suspect’s performance on the tests was affected by external conditions rather than impairment.

  4. Alternative Explanations for Suspect’s Behavior: Body camera footage can support alternative explanations for behaviors that might be misinterpreted as signs of impairment. For instance, the footage might show that a suspect’s poor coordination was due to a medical condition, fatigue, or anxiety rather than intoxication.

By leveraging body camera footage, attorneys can effectively challenge the prosecution’s narrative, ensuring that their clients receive a fair trial and that justice is served.

Loss of Video Footage

Although you cannot count on it as a defense, there are many cases where bodycam and/or dashcam footage are lost through a failure to adequately preserve the evidence. Whether intentional or bureaucratic indifference, the loss of video footage may entitle our clients to a dismissal or a favorable jury instructions.

For example, in DUI cases, the only evidence outside of the statements of the defendant and officer on the stand, and therefore the only non-testimonial evidence, is bodycamera footage. If video was lost, it may be a way to get the case dismissed or negotiate a favorable outcome due to famous Tennessee cases known as Merriman and Ferguson.

However, if the officer failed to turn the body camera on in the first place, it would not be a way to get the case dismissed; although it may call into question the officer’s credibility and still benefit us significantly in negotiations because a jury may have difficulty convicting in a case without such footage.

Leave No Stone Unturned With Barnes & Fersten

If you or a loved one is facing DUI charges, don’t leave your defense to chance. Contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. We will meticulously analyze all available evidence, including bodycam footage, to identify discrepancies and procedural errors. Our dedicated team will build a strong defense to ensure your side of the story is heard and your rights are protected. Your future is too important to delay—reach out now and let us fight for you.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.