The evidentiary issues of police body camera footage

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Around the country, law enforcement agencies are adopting body camera technology. The purpose of this effort has been to gather better evidence, to encourage greater transparency and for accountability. However, as body cameras have become more prevalent, glaring issues with the technology have become apparent.

Any new technology has hiccups, but body camera evidence has raised more questions than answers. It is especially troublesome when relied upon as evidence in a criminal case. The Columbia Police Department is one of the police departments to arm their officers with body cameras.

On Sunday March 20, 2017, an eyewitness filmed an incident at the Eagle Stop gas station. On the following Monday, the local news aired footage of the eyewitness video. In response, the Columbia Police Department released a portion of their body camera footage of the incident. The department released the footage in an effort for the public to have a more complete picture.

This case is pending and we do not have all the information at this time. However, body camera footage used as evidence, comes with a caution.

Around the country, serious questions are being raised about body camera footage. Some notable cases involved dismissal of criminal charges due to issues with body camera footage. In these cases, it was discovered that some videos had been manipulated. Upon investigation, it was discovered that some of the videos were altered through editing or deletion.

· Read more about a New Mexico teen and the six body cameras that failed to capture her death.

· Read here about a Baltimore arrest where the cameras were missing critical pieces of information and capture cops’ bad behavior.

Some police departments have also faced scrutiny because of questionable record retention issues and improper evidence identification of video evidence. Improper storage and identification has even resulted in the failure of departments to release certain videos to defense attorneys in criminal cases.

Varying policies about body camera usage also present an additional evidentiary issue. Law enforcement agencies using the body cameras have their own use policies. Laws governing how the video is retained and released vary by state. Often police officers are in control of when the camera is on, what it films and how it is configured and policies are not always followed.

Many of the concerning cases around the country were dismissed because the camera either didn’t capture what it should have or captured incriminating information about the actions of police officers.

An experienced attorney understands the importance of challenging evidence, even evidence that seems to be clear on its face. Video evidence comes with its own uncertainties and issues. As with any evidence used to prosecute a case, questioning what we think we see and what we think we know is critical to uncovering the truth.