Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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Some Say Hindsight is 20/20 — Can the Same Be Said for Body Cameras?

2 dashcams on Windshield By Fernost (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2 dashcams on windshield
By Fernost (Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Across our country police officers are using body cameras to videotape arrests. ABC News posted an article discussing the advantages and disadvantages of body camera use by police officers. A vendor with a photograph of a body camera and more information is: BodyCam.

Some experts claim that body cameras will force police officers to follow procedure and allow for every moment at the time of the incident to be documented and reviewed.  Others claim the equipment is too cumbersome or intrusive.

For years, however, cameras mounted on the dashboard of the police cruisers have been used to record the actions of both the police officer and the suspect. More specifically, officers who suspect a person may be driving under the influence (DUI use a dash camera to record the “bad driving” of alleged defendants (or, as we have often found, perhaps the lack thereof).

Because of alleged “bad driving,” the officer will conduct a traffic stop of the driver and then usually administer Field Sobriety Tests (all of which are recorded on the dashboard camera.) Typically, both the defense lawyer and the prosecutor review the dash camera footage for any issues regarding the traffic stop and subsequent arrest in preparation for court. This technology has been advantageous to all parties involved, as there is no more accurate method of recollection than such recordings. Lawyers, witnesses, defendants, and officers can all rely on this technology, which often results in the conclusion of cases without the necessity of a trial.

With the introduction of the body cameras, however, some dash cameras in police cruisers are being “phased out.” While there are some advantages of the body cameras–such as when an officer does not have the dash camera aimed correctly, it has been the experience of our DUI defense lawyers that the body cameras do a poor job of recording the relevant information relating to the DUI arrest. For instance, the actual “bad driving” during these DUI traffic stops is often not be captured because the body camera is positioned too low on the officer’s chest. Instead of recording the driving of the suspect, it records only the interior of the police vehicle.


Furthermore, while the Field Sobriety Tests are being administered to the driver, the only recorded material is where the camera is aimed. Typically that will be on the alleged offender’s body, e.g. their torso — not the surface where the tests are being given or even the suspect’s hands or feet. It is imperative that the recording shows the entire area surrounding the performance of the sobriety tests. This ensures there were no inappropriate distractions from bystanders (or even the officer), and that the environment was appropriate for the tests.

In this author’s opinion, it is critical that cameras recording the arrest are used to to protect not only the officer, but also the alleged offender (especially in DUI cases). This protection not only relates to the physical safety of each, but also to ensure the testimony of the officer is not mistaken or exaggerated. The more angles and views of the incident that can be obtained only make for a more accurate recreation of what occurred. Keeping cameras on the dash of police cruisers in addition to placing cameras on officers’ bodies can work concurrently to ensure that every aspect of the arrest is documented and reviewed.

About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,500 DUI defendants.  Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.  Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be Board Certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the NCDD.

He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen).  Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions.  He is a popular international speaker, having lectured at legal seminars in 29 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.

You may contact Steve through his website at www.tndui.com or by telephone at (865) 249-7200.

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Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach American Criminal Law and American Trial Advocacy at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019; in 2023 taught for a semester as a visiting professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law in Budapest, Hungary; and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Law in 2024. Steve has also presented at a number of judicial conferences in the United States and Canada as well as for law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Czech Republic Police Academy. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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