When available, dash cam recordings can be valuable pieces of evidence in DUI cases that may ultimately lead to dismissal of criminal charges.
Officer's Recollection of DUI Arrest
A recent development that has changed how Driving Under the Influence cases are defended is the increasing availability of dash cam video recordings. This has occurred as more and more law enforcement agencies equip their cruisers with recording technology. These videos can serve as valuable pieces of evidence for a DUI defendant. In the past, prosecutors and courts relied solely on an officer's recollection of a DUI arrest, usually as written in his or her report. If the officer was being deceptive or leaving out important facts, there was little a defendant could do to challenge this. However, with video footage widely available, defense counsel now has solid evidence that may contradict what is in a police report or what an officer testifies to in court.
Dash Cams & Traffic Stops
For any DUI defendant, a video recording can be crucial. The majority of DUI cases stem from traffic stops, and the United States and California Supreme Courts have laid out strict guidelines governing the constitutionality of vehicle stops. Police officers are not allowed to pull over vehicles based on mere suspicion or idle curiosity, and there must be reasonable or probable cause based on objective facts indicating that the driver is violating the law. This usually comes in the form of a violation of the California Vehicle Code, which includes infractions such as speeding, equipment violations and proper signal use and lighting. Dash cam video footage can often be used to show that the driving conduct alleged did not, in fact, violate the law or simply did not occur as described, and thus there was no valid reason to pull over the vehicle. A savvy defense attorney can challenge the validity of the vehicle stop in a hearing pursuant to California Penal Code Section 1538.5. If the stop is ultimately found to be unconstitutional, the resulting DUI evidence will be suppressed and the prosecutor would usually have no choice but to dismiss the case.
Officer & DUI Suspect Interaction
In addition, dash cam video footage often shows the interaction between the officer and the DUI suspect as well as the field sobriety testing. In many cases, a DUI defendant may believe that he or she performed better on the field sobriety tests than is indicated in the police reports; and the video footage may often back up the driver's account. While the video footage is certainly not high definition and sometimes the action occurs outside the view of the camera, in many cases the video can show that a driver did not display the symptoms of intoxication as described in the incident reports.
MVARS Video & California Highway Patrol
Use of dash cam videos and other recorded material is not mandatory and currently varies depending on the law enforcement agency. The California Highway Patrol, the law enforcement agency responsible for the majority of vehicle stops in California, currently equips most of its cruisers with MVARS technology. MVARS, which stands for Mobile Video Audio Recording System, is a forward facing camera that is always running. When an officer activates his or her overhead lights to pull over a vehicle, the MVARS keeps a recording starting from a couple minutes before the lights have been activated. This means that the driving conduct or other circumstances that prompted the vehicle stop are recorded on the MVARS video and would be available at a later date. While CHP cruisers are equipped with MVARS technology, CHP motorcycles, which are involved in many DUI stops, are not.
Dash Cams in Police Cruisers On the Rise
In addition to the California Highway Patrol, many smaller local law enforcement agencies have equipped their police cruisers with similar recording devices. The two largest law enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles area, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, have been more reluctant to install dash cam technology in their vehicles. In most cases, dash cam video is not available for DUI arrests involving either the Los Angeles Police Department or the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. However, this is slowly changing. By the end of 2014, the LAPD will have installed an additional 381 dash cams into its police cruisers, which would more than double the amount of LAPD cruisers currently equipped with this technology. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is also testing out dash cam technology in its vehicles, however very few LASD vehicles are equipped with video recorders at the present.
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