In every drunk driving case I handle, I ask the state to produce the video from the camera inside the arresting officer’s patrol vehicle. This often provides the most objective evidence of what happened after my client was pulled over. But not all vehicles have these cameras.
Well, that is about to change. A new law passed here in New Jersey requires all patrol cars "purchased, leased, or otherwise acquired on or after” March 1, 2015, that are "primarily used for traffic stops [must] be equipped with a mobile video recording system.”
A “mobile video recording system” is defined by the statute as "a device or system installed or used in a police vehicle or worn or otherwise used by an officer that electronically records visual images depicting activities that take place during a motor vehicle stop or other law enforcement action.”
Why Is This Important?
This is very important. Now, all patrol cars acquired by the police must have these cameras. In addition, they need not be in the car itself. It can be worn, and many municipalities have purchased “body cams” for their officers.
The statute does not say what the penalty is for a police department that does not comply with this law, but will be interesting to see how that would play out in drunk driving trials where that was the case.
How Can This Help the Defense?
Video plays a crucial role in the defense of a drunk driving charge, in that without it, a person is left with the story told by the police officer in his trial testimony and police report of the stop. There have been occasions, however, where the video tells a different story than the officer, and I have been able to convince a prosecutor to downgrade the charge to careless or reckless driving.
This is particularly the case with the field sobriety test performed at the stop. The officer may say that the driver failed, but the video shows that he passed!
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