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Is Video Evidence Useful in DUI Cases?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 23, 2021 | 0 Comments

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

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?

Now 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 very useful, 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 car has them. 

Usually the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has videos on their cars, and a lot of times, we've been successful in being able to get 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 in such a way that they don't capture the field sobriety test, for example, or they don't capture any of the communications between the defendant and the police officer. In that scenario, the car video is really 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 a camera attached to dashboard in many law enforcement vehicles that are primarily 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, then a defendant has a legal right to view the footage it recorded.

Depending on what happened, the dashcam can actually 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 a someone driving a vehicle committed some type of 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 normally show how the defendant was driving just prior to getting pulled over, which could potentially show the defendant was driving normal.

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.

As noted above, anyone accused of a crime can obtain the footage of the dashcam video, which is normally done by the defendant's defense lawyer by making a requests to arresting police department.    

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

Unlawful Police Stop

Where I see it potentially being useful is if it's an illegal stop and the police are claiming that one thing happened; the client says, no that's not true.  I didn't make an illegal right turn, for example or I wasn't speeding. 

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, in fact, the police are not telling the truth and they have made an illegal stop.

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

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

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

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, definitely, these videos have been helpful in a lot of DUI cases that I've done.  They've also been helpful in the prosecutors being able to prove their case. 

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

Then that can certainly be used to prove they were driving under the influence of alcohol or some other substance and the video is a very effective tool for the prosecutors, and usually end up facilitating 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 pursuant to 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 can 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. In most cases when this happens, the prosecution is normally unable to proceed and will dismiss the charges.

So, if you have a case where you think there's video evidence and you think it might help you, obviously, you're going 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, use them to your advantage.

Hedding Law Firm is located and 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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