When the Video Footage Recorded by a Maryland Law Enforcement Officer’s ‘Bodycam’ May Constitute Hearsay and Be Inadmissible in Your Trial

As body cameras are becoming more and more common among law enforcement officers, bodycam video footage will continue to become more and more common in criminal trials. If you are someone facing criminal charges, it is important to recognize that, just because something was recorded by a police officer’s body camera, that doesn’t necessarily make it admissible against you in your trial. There may be a variety of different reasons why an officer’s bodycam video footage would be inadmissible but, to keep that proof out, you have to know how to mount a successful objection. When it comes to achieving success in this and other tactical maneuvers in your case, it pays to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer on your side.

An assault case from Baltimore demonstrates how the hearsay rule may be a powerful weapon in your case where the state wants to use police bodycam footage. In that case, R.B., the defendant, was facing charges that he attacked D.K.

The state did not call the alleged victim as a witness, presumably because the prosecution team could not locate him. The prosecution tried to get around the problem posed by the alleged victim’s absence by introducing into evidence the video footage from the bodycam worn by the local police officer who responded to the scene of the alleged crime and interviewed the alleged victim. In that footage, the police sergeant asked the alleged victim what happened, and he presented his version of events which, unsurprisingly, portrayed himself as innocent and the accused as the sole aggressor.

The defense objected but the trial judge still let the evidence in. That, according to the Court of Special Appeals, was a mistake and one significant enough to trigger a reversal of the conviction and an award of a new trial.

There were actually two critical flaws with the video footage. For one thing, the alleged victim’s videotaped statement was hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is offered to prove the truth or falsity of a relevant fact in your trial. Not all out-of-court statements are inadmissible hearsay. For example, if the state has a witness that testifies that he saw you shoot the victim, you could potentially use, as part of your defense, out-of-court statements reflecting the witness’s past history of convictions for fraud and tax evasion. Those statements, because they were not offered to prove or dispose what you did and/or what the witness saw, but rather to prove that the witness has a demonstrated history of lying and deception, are not offered “to prove the truth of the matter asserted,” and therefore aren’t hearsay.

In R.B.’s case, though, the police interview contained on the bodycam footage went directly to the question of which man was the aggressor and whether or not R.B. acted strictly defensively. That went to the truth of the matter asserted, thus making it hearsay.

The Bodycam Footage Also Constituted a Confrontation Clause Problem

Additionally, the admission of the bodycam footage represented a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. That amendment says that you have the right to confront, and cross-examine, your accusers. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that this right of confrontation requires a trial judge to “exclude ‘testimonial’ hearsay unless the declarant is unavailable, and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine that witness.”

In R.B.’s case, he never had an opportunity to cross-examine D.K. Additionally, the alleged victim’s statements recorded on the sergeant’s bodycam were testimonial in nature, so that meant that the Sixth Amendment required exclusion of this evidence.

To ensure that you get a genuinely fair trial that complies with all of the constitution’s safeguards, and get the best chance of a positive outcome, count on the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. To put the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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