The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
I had a case the other day where a driver was involved in an accident with a passenger vehicle. The officer was not present to see the accident but upon arrival, interviewed the other driver and wrote my client several citations. My client was adamant that he did nothing wrong and that the other car was solely at fault. He said he could prove it. Sure enough, he did.
A few weeks later I get a DVD in the mail showing the view from the forward facing camera. A quick summary goes like this….my client was traveling down a major highway (3 lanes each direction). He was in the far right lane traveling below the speed limit when a white 4 door sedan passed him in the far left lane then cut across 2 lanes of traffic to try and make an exit. My client tried to avoid the collision and almost did – he only clipped the back of the car as it was coming in front of him at, in essence, a 90 degree angle. Needless to say I shared the video with the prosecuting attorney and the citation issued to my client went away. So did the civil lawsuit the driver of the other vehicle had filed against my client’s employer.
The purpose of the above story is to illustrate that in the legal profession, knowledge is everything. To that end, on board cameras provide one of the best ways to quickly learn critical information about your case. Trust me, you will learn the good, the bad and the ugly. While it is not always pretty, this information allows you to make better decisions. You can decide whether you want to contest a matter or settle. As you can imagine, this is especially true in situations that involve an accident. However, what good does the cameras do in a routine traffic stop? The answer is often times not much. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see what the officer sees during a traffic stop or roadside inspection? Perhaps you could see what the officer was seeing when your driver was written up for some piece of defective equipment or the “damaged” hazmat placard. Of course, you can obtain this information in a criminal proceeding through discovery. But how would you get it to support your position in a DataQ challenge or to simply use as a training tool? Well there may be a way.
In 2016 the Department of Justice awarded over $20 million dollars to more than 100 law enforcement agencies as part of a body-worn camera program. The purpose of the program was to create transparency in police interactions with the public. Of course, for transparency to work the recordings need to reviewable by the public and media. This can generally be accomplished, at the Federal level, through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). FOIA allows the public to access to records of federal agencies. Needless to say there are exceptions and exemptions to FOIA but this is where you start.
Similarly to FOIA, each state has a statute that allows you to request this information. Of course, the state laws vary and there are numerous exceptions and exemption that may apply. A quick review of the state public records statutes shows that the states have taken wide ranging positions on the availability of these videos. The common theme is that each has taken some steps to allow law enforcement agencies some discretion to withhold or deny requests for the video. A good source of information on the various state laws regarding camera worn video can be found at http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/body-worn-cameras-interactive-graphic.aspx#/.
If you want to try and obtain access to these video to support a challenge, train a driver or just to satisfy your sense of curiosity, I would suggest you start with a review of the state’s applicable law. I would also suggest that you make your request as timely as possible as some states have deadlines in which the video must be requested and other agencies may have video retention policies that could result in the video you want being deleted.
J. Bradley Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers.Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.
800-333-DRIVE (3748) or www.interstatetrucker.com