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Is Video Evidence Useful in DUI Cases?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 23, 2021

Every California DUI case is decided based on the strength of the evidence. Many defendants believe the evidence against them is solid, but the DUI evidence is often weak in many cases.

Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were either over the legal limit of intoxicants in your system, were impaired by them, or both.

In many California Vehicle Code 23152 VC DUI cases, the prosecutor will have limited evidence to work with.

Is Video Evidence Useful in California DUI Cases?

With the advent of technology, many times, driving under the influence cases, or at least part of them, are captured on video. Sometimes they can be instrumental, both to the defense and the prosecution.

This video evidence comes in various forms. One video is mounted to the police squad cars. Those have been with us for quite some time, but not every vehicle has them. 

Usually, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has videos on their cars. Often, we've successfully gotten those videos as part of the discovery process in a DUI case to see if we can use them to help our client.

Unfortunately, a lot of times, the police park their car, so they don't capture the field sobriety test, for example, or they don't charge any of the communications between the defendant and the police officer. In that scenario, the car video is not all that useful.

Our Los Angeles DUI lawyers are providing a closer review below.

Police Dashcam Videos

Dashcams are also called Mobile Video Audio Recording Systems (MVARS). They are cameras attached to the dashboard in many law enforcement vehicles designed to record what happens before and after someone is arrested.

Under California law, police are not required to use MVARS, but if it's used to record an incident, a defendant has a legal right to view the footage is recorded.

Depending on what happened, the dashcam can help a defendant in a California driving under the influence case, such as showing on video:

  • police lacked probable cause for a traffic stop,
  • defendant didn't show any outward signs of intoxication,
  • defendant passed the roadside field sobriety tests

The issue of probable cause warrants further discussion. Put simply, law enforcement must have probable cause that someone driving a vehicle committed some unlawful act before they can initiate a traffic stop.

The MVARS records and saves a video from the moment the police officer activates the squad car's emergency lights.

This means the dashcam will typically show how the defendant was driving before getting pulled over, potentially leading the defendant to be operating normally.

This means the video footage could prove the police had no probable cause to stop the vehicle, and if there was no probable cause, then any evidence gathered as a result of the unlawful traffic stop can get suppressed.

Anyone accused of a crime can obtain the dashcam video footage, which the defendant's defense lawyer usually does by requesting to arrest the police department.    

The prosecution also has a right to use the MVARS video evidence in criminal cases.

Unlawful Police Stop

I see it potentially being valid if it's an illegal stop and the police are claiming that one thing happened; the client says, no, that's not true.  For example, I didn't make an illegal right turn or speed. 

Then you get the video, and the video doesn't show them doing anything illegal, and now that video can be used to show that the police are not telling the truth and they have made an unlawful stop.

More recently, the videos that we see in these DUI cases are body-worn videos, where the police officers have on in the video and when they contact the defendant and talk to them. 

You can see how the defendant is acting, walking, and talking. Of course, these bodycam videos aren't on when they approach the suspect's vehicle many times. 

So, it would be nice to get a combination of the video from the car and the body-worn video, but unfortunately, not all police agencies have it. 

As I make this post, I don't see a lot of CHP officers wearing the body video, but I do see LAPD officers who don't make as many DUI pullovers and arrests.

Video Evidence Can Be Helpful or Hurtful

So, these videos have been helpful in many DUI cases that I've done.  They've also been beneficial in the prosecutors proving their case. 

So, they can be used against defendants as well.  If somebody is failing the field sobriety test miserably, the police can capture that on video or if they can get the person's impaired driving on video.

Then that can undoubtedly be used to prove they were driving under the influence of alcohol or some other substance. The video is a very effective tool for the prosecutors and usually facilitates a resolution in the case.

Criminal Defense for California DUI Charges

Put simply; video evidence can be helpful or detrimental to the defendant's case.

It might accurately support or police officer's statements regarding the defendant's driving conduct, demeanor, appearance, and performance on the field sobriety tests.

In other cases, it could show police did not have sufficient reasonable or probable cause to pull over the defendant's vehicle. In these situations, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to suppress under California Penal Code 1538.5 PC.

See related page: How Can Video Evidence Be Used to Defend a DUI Case?

At the motion hearing, the defense lawyer will have a chance to question the police officer about the vehicle stop and play the dashcam in court for the judge to review.

If the judge decides there was insufficient reasonable cause to justify the vehicle stop, they will grant the motion, and all the resulting DUI evidence will be suppressed. When this happens, the prosecution usually cannot proceed and will dismiss the charges.

So, suppose you have a case where you think there's video evidence, and you think it might help you. In that case, you're going to want to hire an attorney like me who's been doing this for 27 years, knows how to get those videos, knows how to evaluate them, and obviously, uses them to your advantage.

Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County and offers a free case consultation.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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