The Impact of Body Camera Footage on Criminal Cases

Arizona criminal defenseThere is change in the air for how criminal cases are handled. With the growing trend in law enforcement to use body cameras and dash-mounted cameras when interacting with the public, the evidence available to understand the actual events of an arrest is increasing.

For instance, news broke this month after the release of body cam footage showing the violent arrest of a 15-year-old boy right here in Mesa, which occurred in May. According to ABC News, this incident was made public shortly after another video, of police beating a man against a wall in May, had drawn attention. Between the two incidents, seven officers have been placed on leave pending internal investigations. With these cases still open, there has been a sharp focus given to the use of body cameras and how they impact the work of police.

Clarity in Consideration

The online magazine Government Technology recognized the importance cameras were playing in arrest accounts and ran a report in 2016. Descriptions of arrests, particularly in drunk driving cases, have historically relied on competing descriptions of events which may include vague, standardized language designed to get a desired result from a jury. The advent of cameras at the scene, however, had at the time of publication already had an impact in the way these cases were being handled. Cases in which suspects are visibly impaired on camera are less likely to go to court and more likely to strike a deal, while cases in which police can be shown to overstep their power or mishandle evidence are more likely to be dismissed or see charges reduced to accurately reflect the circumstances.

This does not come without a cost, but it is one worth paying. Aside from the costs of acquiring cameras for police use, which are sometimes given for free, the use of cameras makes two new demands on the legal process. Attorneys on both sides of a case must spend much more time processing video than they could previously spend reading statements and police reports of events. This increase in time spent per case can slow down offices that are ill-equipped to handle it, especially on the state side if a large number of camera-witnessed cases hit the prosecutor’s office in a short period of time. Then, the camera footage, like all evidence, must be stored somewhere for long-term access. Storing video footage requires a significant financial investment, and there is not yet a settled decision on how that cost will be managed as the demand for storage space grows.

We are in a period of transition, and these demands will be sorted out in time. The value of the cameras, both in recording events for trial and in helping police review activities and improve training, is too great to let this opportunity pass us by. These are little more than growing pains in a legal system that is becoming more fair and accurate.

We are committed to using video evidence to help our clients better navigate the legal process and achieve their best possible results. If you have a criminal case ahead, contact us today and get the help you need.

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Mesa, AZ 85206
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