Body Cameras and Criminal Discovery
30 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2017
Date Written: August 31, 2016
As police departments nationwide operate under increasing public scrutiny following numerous high-profile instances of excessive and often lethal force against unarmed African-Americans and Latinos, calls for greater accountability have been nearly unanimous in supporting the use of Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) by police officers. On September 21, 2015, the Department of Justice announced awards totaling over $23 million to local police departments for the purpose of implementing BWC programs. Announcing the project, Attorney General Loretta Lynch emphasized the hope that BWCs would “enhance transparency, accountability, and credibility” among beleaguered police departments nationwide. But, in addition to recording the activities of the police, BWCs also record the conduct and statements of criminal defendants, victims, and witnesses of crimes. BWC footage has been widely discussed for its potential to hold police accountable for their actions, but it has not yet been subject to scholarly examination for its potential use as evidence in criminal proceedings. This Note fills that gap, focusing on the conflict between the government’s interest in maintaining exclusive control over BWC footage and the defendant’s entitlement to pretrial discovery under Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Although witness safety concerns may justify some limitations on defendants’ access to body-cam footage in exceptional cases, this Note argues that the discovery rules governing analogous pre-existing technologies militate in favor of broad pretrial disclosure of BWC footage.
Keywords: criminal justice, criminal law, criminal discovery, body cameras, policing, criminal procedure, defendants' rights, evidence, discovery, race, police violence, mass incarceration, war on drugs
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