In this digital age, the widespread availability of small and inexpensive video cameras is changing the way that law enforcement works.
In America, this has led to an extensive debate on the use of camera phones by citizens, as well as thousands of citizen recordings making their way onto the public Internet to show interactions between law enforcement officers and members of their communities.
While many of these recordings take place in a charged atmosphere, a video or audio recording can be essential evidence in a criminal defense case. Professional criminal defense attorneys understand that when video or audio is present, it can be a substantial resource for clients.
Recording Law Enforcement Interactions
A video or audio record of a police encounter is an unchangeable piece of documentation that will show clearly what happened at the scene. These pieces of key evidence can change a case in a number of important ways, including:
- showing where individuals were standing at any stage of an encounter
- showing escalating levels of violence
- providing record of conversational exchanges
- documenting gunshots or other violent activity
With that in mind, it’s only common sense that lawyers should seek out these pieces of evidence to use them in a court of law. Studies cited by Huffington Post also show how the use of some types of video can decrease extreme use of force by police.
Pitfalls of Video Recording
Regardless of their utility in court, taking video of law enforcement encounters can be difficult. It can even put individuals at the scene in danger.
One obstacle to effective police recording is any restriction of citizen activity, either verbal or physical. Police officers may specifically request that phones or cameras be turned off as a condition of peaceful resolution, or they can proactively secure a suspect, which makes recording impossible.
In other cases, police who see citizens recording can respond with aggression, even extreme levels of aggression brought on by the idea that there is a video being recorded of the encounter. Some law enforcement officers will take offense to video recording and see it as a de facto escalation.
In general, being polite and responding peacefully to law enforcement officers is paramount. It can take precedence over the recording of an event for posterity.
The key point to understand is that each individual must make his or her own decisions about recording at the scene.
Criminal defense lawyers come into the equation after the encounter has happened, and can provide many different kinds of important counsel on what a defendant or suspect can do after the fact.
Some citizens choose to advise police that they are recording peacefully. Others choose to use less intrusive video or audio tools that a law enforcement officer will not detect. Some jurisdictions have mandated the use of police body cameras to preserve their own video records of law enforcement encounters. Washington Post reporting shows D.C. police departments have launched pilot programs in steps towards mandatory body camera use.
If you have been charged with a crime or have questions about an encounter with law enforcement officers, talk to the lawyers at The McDaniel Law Group, PLLC. Call 202-331-0793 and get help from a legal team who understands how to deal with a criminal defense case in local Washington, D.C. courts.