Like many law enforcement agencies across the nation, the Birmingham Police Department has widely increased its use of body-worn cameras in recent years. Camera footage has the potential to drastically affect the outcome of criminal case proceedings. Some footage will help a defendant’s case, and some footage will hurt it, but the ultimate result of body camera footage should be an accurate representation of interactions with a law enforcement officer.
This gives criminal defendants and the general public the ability to hold officers accountable for inappropriate - or illegal - actions. In today’s politically charged climate of strained relations between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, it is more important than ever to have accurate information about the interactions between them.
Body Camera Usage in Birmingham
Bham Now reports that the Birmingham Police Department first began using body cameras in 2015. By 2016, body cameras were being used on every police shift, and as costs continued to drop, the Birmingham City Council appeared ready to approve a spending measure to purchase upgraded equipment. These costs are not a loss for taxpayers.
According to Alabama.com, both use of force incidents and citizen complaints dropped after body cameras were first introduced on the Birmingham police force. These drops will also reduce the likelihood that the City will be required to pay out lawsuits over such incidents. More importantly, the accountability afforded by body worn camera footage will promote safer interactions between the Birmingham Police Department and the public it serves.
How Body Camera Footage Can Help a Criminal Defense
For many defendants, the accurate record provided by body camera footage can help protect their constitutional rights. Recordings may prove that evidence was improperly seized, or that a vehicle was searched without a warrant, or that an officer did not read the required Miranda Warnings before interrogating a suspect.
In such instances, body camera footage can help a defense attorney identify issues upon which to defend a criminal case, or serve as evidence to support such issues.
How Body Camera Footage Can Hurt a Criminal Defense
Of course, body camera footage can also hurt the defense of criminal charges. Government Technology spoke with one prosecutor who used body camera footage in a drunk driving case. Prior to seeing the footage, the defense attorney insisted that the driver was sober and that the Breathalyzer machine must have malfunctioned. After seeing footage of the client unable to walk a straight line, the defense attorney agreed to settle the case. So long as an officer is lawfully present on the scene, such incriminating evidence will generally be admissible against the defendant.
Regardless of whether body camera footage helps or hurts a defendant’s case, it is evidence which cannot be ignored. A Birmingham criminal defense attorney can help defendants protect important constitutional rights. You need an attorney with the experience to use body camera footage to your best advantage. As changes in both technology and the state of law continue to affect the ways in which body camera footage is collected and used, it is important to have guidance from an experienced defense attorney who knows how to successfully navigate these issues.