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Police Dash Cams and Their Use in DUI Cases

As technology continues to improve, the use of video cameras in dashboard cameras and body cameras by police has increased dramatically. These videos are now a crucial part of a DUI case.

Dashboard mounted cameras are continuously running. Most will automatically turn on and record when the officer activates his overhead lights, but they can be manually activated as well. Once turned on the camera will record back about thirty to sixty seconds. Therefore if an officer sees a person run a red light for example, and then turns on his recorder, the red light violation will be recorded as well as whatever else happens until he turns it off. The audio for dash cam videos is provided by a microphone worn by the officer. Body cameras are worn by officers on their person. They capture video at about a chest high view and can be turned on and off as needed.

There are two crucial issues that are covered by dash cam videos. The first is the basis for the stop. In order to perform a traffic stop the officer must witness a traffic violation or have a reasonable belief based on specific facts that criminal activity is occurring. In ninety-five percent of DUI cases the reason for the stop is a traffic violation. After about 11:00 p.m. many police officers will begin pulling over people for even the slightest of traffic violations as part of an effort to make DUI arrests. Normally the reason for the stop will appear on the dash cam video. It is not uncommon for an officer to make a mistake when observing a lane violation or other traffic offense. Review of the video is extremely important, because if it is discovered that the traffic stop was bad, then anything stemming from that stop cannot be used as evidence including statements of the driver and even a breath test.

The second issue is probable cause to arrest. Even if the officer has a basis to stop, they need probable cause to make an arrest or anything stemming from that arrest cannot be used as evidence. Dash cams and body cameras can be used to show the basis for the arrest. In DUI cases, when an officer suspects a driver has been drinking they will usually order them out of their car and ask them to perform field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are a large part of probable cause to arrest in DUI cases. These tests are usually done in front of the officer’s vehicle and will be recorded on the dash cam and any body cameras. I have often read reports where it sounded as if the person did terrible on the field sobriety tests, only to view the video and find that they didn’t look impaired at all. Of course I have also had client’s tell me they are sure they looked fine only to discover that they looked terrible on the video.

In summary dash cam and body camera videos are crucial pieces of evidence in any DUI case. It is essential that these videos are reviewed to look for flaws in the State’s case and assess the best course of action when defending a DUI case.