When You Can Keep Police Body Camera Video Footage Out of a Criminal Trial in Maryland

Today, newly emerging technologies have the potential to provide people accused of crimes powerful weapons in their defense. These technologies also can do harm, however, when they allow for inadmissible evidence to get before a jury. This is but one reason among the countless ones why you need a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side who can vigilantly and diligently fight to protect your rights at trial.

S.P. was a man whose case involved one of those newer technologies – police body cameras. S.P., who was on trial for the false imprisonment and assault of his wife, allegedly used electrical tape to cover her mouth and bind her hands and feet, then threw her in the rear of his SUV. A Montgomery County Police officer responded to the neighbor’s house, which was where the wife was at the time. The responding officer was wearing a body camera.

At the husband’s trial, the prosecution wanted to use the body camera video footage against the accused man. The husband opposed this evidence, but the court allowed it in anyway. The man was ultimately convicted. On appeal, though, that conviction was overturned. The husband’s trial counsel had been correct to challenge the admission of the body camera footage into evidence.

With the increased frequency of police officers using body cameras, Maryland had changed its rules regarding the admission of body camera footage into evidence in a criminal trial. One thing that the current rules say is that anything that anyone says on that video that would qualify as “hearsay” under Maryland law must be something that qualifies for one of the exceptions for the hearsay rule. If the hearsay isn’t within any of the exceptions, the body camera footage isn’t admissible.

In S.P.’s case, the body camera footage contained an interview between the police and the wife. In that footage, the wife made several statements about things the husband allegedly said to her during the alleged assault. The statements included threats like “this is your last night.”

This was clearly hearsay, the appeals court stated. That meant that the prosecution was required to show the existence of a hearsay rule exception, but the state didn’t do that. This meant that letting the footage into evidence was an error.

Even if you demonstrate on appeal that a trial court made an error, your work isn’t done. You also must show that the mistake met the law’s standards for a “harmful” error in order for you to get a new trial. In S.P.’s case, the video footage clearly was something potentially harmful. The crux of the prosecution’s case was the wife’s testimony, so her credibility was very important. The hearsay evidence on the video served to bolster the wife’s credibility, and that could have influenced the jury’s decision-making when they gave credence to the wife’s testimony over the husband’s defense, so S.P. was entitled to a new trial.

When you’re on trial for assault or another crime, you are entitled to certain things. For one thing, you’re entitled not to be convicted by hearsay evidence (that isn’t within a legal exception.) When it comes to protecting yourself in this and other areas, don’t leave your freedom to chance. Be sure you have effective legal counsel on your side. Reach out to experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping the accused in Maryland for many years to present the strong and persuasive defenses they need to protect themselves. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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