Let's review how MVARS (Mobile Video Audio Recording Systems) can help or hurt your California DUI or criminal case.
Suppose you are pulled over in California by local police or a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer. In that case, there's an increasing possibility that your interaction with police will be recorded by a MVARS, known as a "dashcam" mounted on the police car dashboard.
These devices are used in law enforcement vehicles to record arrests and the events leading up to arrests. MVARS are also frequently used to record conversations between police and suspects before and during arrests, field sobriety tests, and a motorist's driving patterns before being pulled over.
These video and audio recordings are typically admissible in criminal proceedings. Depending on the specific circumstances, they can be both helpful and hurtful to a defendant's case. Anyone accused of a crime can view the footage from a dashcam if a video or audio recording was made.
With increased public pressure on law enforcement in recent years to be more transparent and accountable, more police departments are now outfitting their vehicles with these devices in California—and CHP has adopted wide use of them across the state. The Los Angeles Police Department vehicles are also widely equipped with dashcams.
If you're arrested and charged with DUI or some other crime, the dashcam footage may be used as evidence, either by the prosecution or the defense. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this footage can either help or hurt your defense.
What Is MVARS and How Is It Used?
Mobile Video Audio Recording Systems, or MVARS, are dash-mounted cameras installed in police vehicles. They always face forward and are typically turned on.
The MVARS is programmed to begin recording and saving video when the officer turns on their emergency lights. The police officer is not allowed to turn off their dashcam. The primary purpose of this dashcam is to provide an accurate, unbiased record of encounters between law enforcement personnel and civilians.
These systems serve as objective eyewitnesses, capturing real-time events as they unfold. MVARS also plays a significant role in promoting transparency and accountability within law enforcement agencies.
The recordings can assess officers' conduct during their interactions with the public, ensuring adherence to professional standards and ethical practices. Notably, the use of these cameras is not required by law. Some police departments widely use them, and others will not use them.
How Can MVARS Help Your Case?
Whether or not a dashcam can help your case depends on the facts and circumstances. The recordings might contradict claims made in the police report but could also confirm them.
MVARS in a criminal or DUI case can benefit the accused in several ways. Firstly, the video and audio recordings precisely represent the series of events leading up to and during the incident.
This objective evidence can be crucial in establishing the context of the situation, which may not be accurately reflected in the verbal testimonies of the parties involved. Some examples of how this police dashcam footage can bolster your defense:
- It can refute officer claims that you were acting in an intoxicated manner in DUI cases. It will show whether you were staggering or slurring your words. The footage will confirm if you performed well on a field sobriety test.
- It can verify your version of the police interaction. The audio component can capture the conversation between the officer and the defendant, again providing context and potentially revealing discrepancies in the officer's report. Suppose police officers mistreated you during the arrest. In that case, the dashcam recording could show evidence that your constitutional rights were violated.
- It can reveal improper police conduct. The dashcam footage can show any improper actions the police may have taken against you, including unnecessary force. Also, because the dashcam footage saves at least 30 seconds before and after the interaction, the video will show the cop following your car. It may be able to demonstrate whether the officer had probable cause to pull you over. If they didn't, your case may be dismissed on these grounds.
- If there are some lingering questions or issues on critical facts of the case, the video or audio recordings can capture the facts and events that police are unable to deny.
How Can MVARS Potentially Hurt Your Case?
While MVARS footage can aid your defense, you should recognize its potential downsides. Here's how the footage could work against you.
- The footage may increase suspicions that you were intoxicated in a DUI stop. If the video shows you staggering, for example, or failing your sobriety test, this could be seen as incriminating, even if you had nothing to drink.
- MVARS footage is difficult, if not impossible, to suppress as evidence. Suppose the video and audio recordings are incriminating. In that case, the prosecution will likely present them as evidence against you, and by law, they are generally admissible in court unless your attorney can devise a creative reason why it shouldn't be.
- MVARS footage is difficult to challenge. Dashcams are not flawless. Issues such as camera angle limitations, poor lighting conditions, or technical malfunctions can lead to incomplete or misleading footage. However, challenging the reliability or accuracy of MVARS recordings can be difficult and often requires expert testimony.
What Are Your Rights Regarding Viewing MVARS Footage?
As a defendant, you have the legal right to view the dashcam video associated with your case.
Your defense attorney can request this footage during the discovery process, which is the pre-trial phase in which both sides exchange information about the evidence and witnesses they plan to present. If they don't already have the footage, copies of MVARS footage are typically provided to the defense and the prosecution.
Prosecutors have the right to use MVARS videos as evidence in criminal cases. If a video or audio recording makes you look bad, you should expect it to be used against you.
If you have been accused of a crime, you should contact a criminal defense law firm to review the case details and discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.