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Can I Get Police Body Cam Footage for My Oakland DUI Case?

If you find out there were cameras rolling when you were arrested by Oakland police for drunk driving, you may think they have good evidence that you were guilty. However, video evidence may be just as likely to show doubt about your guilt to help you avoid a conviction. Don't assume all video evidence is bad. Your Oakland DUI defense lawyer may be able to use the video evidence to help your case. 

If you want to know how body cam or dash cam footage can support your DUI defense, talk to an experienced drunk driving defense attorney about your case. To fight your Oakland DUI criminal charges, contact East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick for legal advice.

Do Oakland Police Record DUI Traffic Stops?

Video recordings by police have gone back decades. Many law enforcement vehicles across California have dash cams or onboard cameras that record the view out of the front of the vehicle. This includes most sheriff departments, California Highway Patrol (CHP), and the Oakland Police Department. 

These dash cams are sometimes known as Mobile Video/Audio Recording Systems (MVARS). For many law enforcement departments in California, the MVARS are mounted in the vehicle and positioned to record out the front window. The MVARS are generally recording the whole time. However, the quality of the video can depend on the individual traffic stop situation. 

For example, if the officer is not very close to the stopped vehicle, there is not adequate lighting, or there is a lot of ambient noise, you may not be able to very clearly see or hear what is happening during the traffic stop. However, most traffic stops involve the officer parking directly behind the vehicle and putting a spotlight on the driver. 

If a police officer claims the driver was weaving in traffic, crossing over the center divide, or swerved to avoid a curb, it should show up on the MVARS recording. If the video shows something different, it can weaken the prosecutor's case.

When Do Oakland PD Turn On Their Cameras?

Body cams have been a controversial issue. The police may want to have them but want to be able to turn them off when they want. There are obvious problems with giving the police the power to record whatever they want and erase something that makes them look bad. The City of Oakland is regularly changing the policies around Oakland police body cam footage. A recent change has been to use auto-activation features, such as when the police draw their guns. 

According to the Oakland Draft policy from 2022, police officers are supposed to use Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) anytime they go into the field for law enforcement assignments. Oakland officers are required to activate the BWC before:

  • Contact with a person to confirm or dispel a suspicion that the person may be involved in criminal activity as a suspect
  • Detention and arrest
  • Engaging in pursuing a vehicle
  • Escorting a detained or arrested person in custody at a police facility
  • And certain other required situations

In general, officers are not supposed to deactivate the BWC until policies clear them from mandatory activation. 

How Can I Get Video Evidence of My Arrest From the Police?

In criminal litigation, the parties involved are the plaintiff bringing the charges (generally the State of California) and the defendant (the person accused). The state's case is generally prosecuted by a district attorney (DA)  or prosecutor. The prosecutor's case for a drunk driving arrest can involve evidence from:

  • Police report
  • Officer testimony
  • Dash cam footage
  • Body cam footage
  • Police department surveillance video
  • Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs)
  • Preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) devices
  • Chemical breath or blood test results
  • Any other relevant evidence

When the defendant starts the case, they may have little evidence that supports their case, with the exception of possibly a witness statement. However, during discovery, the parties exchange information. This means your attorney can generally get any relevant evidence that the police department or prosecutor may use.

Your attorney can request copies of all documentation, video footage, photographs, or other records that the police department is in possession of. If the prosecutor doesn't turn over evidence, your attorney can file a motion to compel discovery with the criminal court judge in your case. 

After complying with the discovery requests, your attorney can review all the evidence, including dash cam or body cam footage. This footage can be helpful because the video may directly contradict the officer's police report or the officer's testimony. 

When Can the Public Get Body Cam Footage?

The process is very different when the public is asking to see police officer body cam footage. California passed The Right To Know Act in 2018. This law gave the public access to certain police records. However, the types of records available are very limited. In general, the public can only make a limited request for this video evidence.

According to the text of the bill SB 1421, law enforcement officer records shall be made available under the public records laws for:

  • Incidents involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer 
  • Incidents in which the use of force by a peace officer against a person resulted in death, or in great bodily injury
  • Incident with a finding there was a peace officer engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public 
  • Incidents with a finding of honesty or misconduct by a peace officer

Other records of police misconduct are still generally off limits to the public. The police departments may still redact or keep confidential information. 

Drunk Driving Defense in Oakland and the East Bay

If you are arrested in Oakland, talk to your defense lawyer about legal defense strategies. Your attorney can tell you about your legal options and help you make the best decision for your DUI case. In some situations, you may be able to avoid a trial if your attorney can challenge the evidence in your case. 

Call an experienced California DUI defense attorney for legal help. East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 40 years of Oakland impaired driving defense experience and understands the consequences of a criminal conviction. Contact East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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