In criminal defense cases, police body cameras can be beneficial in presenting evidence for a trial that can result in acquittals and reduced charges. As body cameras become standard issue for an increasing number of police officers around the country, the evidence they provide is helping reinforce- or contradict- the testimony provided by people at the scene.
Police Body Cameras Provide Evidence
When law enforcement agencies began outfitting police officers with miniature body cameras, their main objectives were to protect residents from overly aggressive officers during arrests and to shield police officers from any unfounded complaints by perpetrators and bystanders. As people become more accustomed to body cameras, there is acceptance among the public, law enforcement, and many civil rights organizations who assert that these cameras will provide benefits for the justice system. While these tiny cameras are effective protection for citizens and police, they also provide valuable evidence for prosecutors and defense attorneys in a trial.
After an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, was fatality injured by a police officer’s gunshot, President Obama instigated Congressional action to buy 50,000 police body cameras in Ferguson, Missouri. In 2013, Washington DC and Maryland launched pilot programs to test the impact of police body cameras in several communities. Many other states have since launched programs to test body cameras for law enforcement in various cities.
Many courts around the country now use body-camera footage as evidence in criminal trials. In 2016, a body camera video was used in a Montana murder trial. The first police officer on the scene had a body camera attached to his jacket, which allowed him to ask the dying victim important questions about his attacker. In Vermont, prosecutors were able to convict a man of assault with a baseball bat on his wife because the acts were recorded on the arresting officer’s body camera. In Washington, evidence from a body camera was used by both the prosecution and the defense in a common assault case.
Many criminal convictions come down to credibility contests between the arresting police officer, witnesses, and the accused perpetrator. These cases are often determined based on the testimony presented at trial. If body cameras become standard issue for police officers around the country, some of these cases will be dismissed when video fails to support the witnesses’ or officers’ accounts of the events. Other cases will end quickly when the footage shows overwhelming evidence of guilt.