Body cameras mixed bag for defense

January 26, 2018


Body cameras are becoming more prevalent and have been for over a year. My first body camera case ever was an OWI (DUI) case in Iowa and a municipal law enforcement agency that early-adopted body cameras. I applaud the decision. However, over time all agencies are going to require getting some of the bugs out.


First, at that time, it was used as a substitute for the in-dash patrol car video. It does not appear that was a specific protocol, but in this particular anecdotal case/situation, the officer specifically directed another officer that he had his body camera running and that the follow-on officer did not need to have his in-dash camera running. I think the more audio/video sources helps everyone. That’s why, in my opinion, it was not controversial for the Obama administration to then propose that law enforcement add body cameras to their toolbox. Of course, funding is always an issue.  


In any case, without the in-dash camera, there was not a fixed camera position with image stabilization and the field sobriety tests were not optimally recorded. That cuts both ways for the prosecution and the defense. In this case, however, because there was no breath test—it was a test refusal—the field sobriety tests became more important.


Of course, the prosecution argued in plea negotiations that the test refusal was all that was needed to secure a guilty verdict (because in Iowa a Datamaster test refusal is admissible and prosecutors may argue that is indicative of guilt). While true, I would argue that a test refusal proves nothing and that the field sobriety tests are important to determine whether the officer’s subjective observations might otherwise be objectively debunked, which typically contain the following cut and paste assertions: bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and the odor of ingested alcohol emanating from their person.


The walk and turn and one-leg stand, if photographed in good lighting conditions and under optimal testing conditions can corroborate those subjective observations. Without them, it is possible to argue that there is not enough evidence to credit the officers' other subjective observations.


Without a Datamaster DMT test result and without field sobriety tests in becomes much more difficult for a jury to substantively corroborate the officer’s observations of probable insobriety. I think the body cameras are a good thing but I believe they should supplement, not substitute for, in-car dash cameras.


If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI (DUI) or other criminal offense in Cedar Rapids or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free initial consultation at 319-389-1889. 

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