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How Important Is the Video Recording of a Police Stop to the Defense of a DUI Charge?


Interviewer: What about video recording? How do those come into play during a trial?

New Jersey Has Drafted Legislation to Require All Police Cars to Have Video Cameras

James Abate: They are the most crucial piece of evidence in a DUI case. It’s impossible or at least more difficult to cross-examine an officer on the field sobriety test without some proof of how they were performed. In fact, it is so important that the New Jersey legislature recently passed into law a bill which would require every police car in New Jersey to have video cameras installed.

State police were already required to have cameras in the cars.  Most of the police do have it because they recognize that there are benefits to having that evidence. Unfortunately the governor did not sign the bill and it’s not currently law.

The reason for that bill was that there was a member of the legislature who was pulled over and he was accused of driving while intoxicated. When they went back and look at the video, absolutely nothing the officer said was supported by the video. Now that was one rogue officer, I am not saying that officers purposely doctor their reports but the officer’s point of view may be different from what’s on the video.

Interviewer: You’ve mentioned once that you didn’t even see the officer on the video at one point on one case.

James Abate: Yes and that happens all the time because the standard operating procedure for the state police and for most local police agencies is the officer is going to pull up behind the drivers vehicle. They take the driver around in front of his vehicle to take the test. That’s done for safety, of course.

In Some Cases, the Audio Recording May Be More Important Than the Video Recording

But it does obscure the video;however, the audio was really the more important of the two. There’s this one officer who is great at this who repositioned their car turn the video camera and make sure that he’s got a great view on video of what happened.

Honestly, as an officer of the court, I am evaluating the officer on how he does his job. In my opinion, this is a credible officer. I am going to understand that this is someone who is trying to create the most specific evidence, he’s so confident on how he did his job that he’s going to show you this is what I did and I have nothing to hide.

I find testimony from someone like that to be very credible and very difficult to overcome. Whereas, if I have someone who parks up right behind the vehicle and doesn’t want to create a record, I assume he’s got something to hide. But the most important aspect is the audio. I need to hear what’s going on.

It Is Possible for an Officer to Deliberately Interfere with the Audio Recording but This Action Could Lead to a Dismissal of the Charges     

Some officers activate the interior radio of the squad car so the external microphone doesn’t pick up audio and I won’t be able to hear what’s going on. That’s a violation of police protocol. If that does occur I know that I can make a motion to preclude use of video evidence and therefore, any charges arising from that evidence. It’s a bad move for the officer.

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