Assessing the Impact of Police Body Camera Evidence on the Litigation of Excessive Force Cases

54 Georgia Law Review 1 (2019)

60 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020

See all articles by Mitchell Zamoff

Mitchell Zamoff

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2020

Abstract

In the wake of several hotly debated and widely publicized shootings of civilians by police officers, calls for the increased use of body-worn cameras (bodycams) by law enforcement officers have intensified. As police departments across the country expand their use of this emergent technology, courts will increasingly be presented with video evidence from bodycams when making determinations in cases alleging the excessive use of force by the police. This Article tests the hypotheses that bodycam evidence will be dispositive in most excessive force cases and that such evidence will positively impact the way those cases are litigated and decided. In doing so, it presents the first review of the evidentiary impact of bodycams on the outcomes of excessive force cases. By compiling and evaluating the first data set of reported excessive force cases filed in the federal courts involving bodycam evidence, this Article makes several findings about how this highly anticipated evidence is affecting excessive force litigation and jurisprudence. Those findings include (1) about one-third of all bodycam videos submitted in support of defense summary judgment motions do not capture the entire incident at issue in the lawsuit; (2) whether a bodycam video is complete or partial has a profound impact on summary judgment outcomes in bodycam cases; (3) bodycam evidence improves defendants’ likelihood of success on summary judgment in excessive force cases only if the bodycam video is complete; (4) defendants are actually more likely to prevail on summary judgment in excessive force cases without any bodycam video evidence than in cases with a partial bodycam video; and (5) summary judgment motions are filed and adjudicated more expeditiously in excessive force cases with bodycam videos (especially complete videos) than cases without bodycam evidence. These findings illustrate both the benefits and limitations of current bodycam technology, suggest the need for America’s police departments to accelerate the adoption of bodycam programs and promulgate policies that will maximize the evidentiary value and accuracy of bodycam evidence, and highlight the need for continued research to inform policy and funding determinations related to the use of bodycams by law enforcement.

Keywords: body-worn camera, bodycam, BWC, excessive, force, Fourth Amendment, summary judgment

Suggested Citation

Zamoff, Mitchell, Assessing the Impact of Police Body Camera Evidence on the Litigation of Excessive Force Cases (February 19, 2020). 54 Georgia Law Review 1 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3541318

Mitchell Zamoff (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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