The Emerging Law of Body Cameras

Courts throughout the nation are now dealing with the emerging law of body cameras. What about the inevitable issue of discovery? How do we deal with incompatible devices? What if the body camera does not work, malfunctions, or intentionally is turned off (or not turned on)?

In a recent case, the officer testified that his body armor accidentally muted the microphone on the body recorder on his belt when he bent over. Should the court respond by suppressing the evidence, dismissing the charge, or doing something in between? At least one court has held that this was not a due process violation, as there was an exigency for a community caretaking function entry based on a loud argument inside and the officer being invited in. United States v. Givens, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167433 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 18, 2016), adopted, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167140 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 5, 2016):

Defendant argues that it was a violation of Department of Justice and Kansas City Police Department protocol not to use the body recorder during the entire incident (referring to the 10 to 12 minutes that are missing on the recording) and this violates his Fifth Amendment rights.

Violation of Department of Justice or Kansas City Police Department protocol does not create any rights on behalf of a criminal defendant. See United States v. Kubini, 19 F. Supp. 3d 579, 619 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (provisions in U.S. Attorney’s Manual do not create enforceable rights); United States v. Gomez, 237 F.3d 238, n.1 (3rd Cir. 2000) (provisions of U.S. Attorney’s Manual do not create any judicially enforceable rights); United States v. Jarrett, 447 F.3d 520, 529 (7th Cir. 2006) (case law, not internal handbooks, provides the guidance for whether rights have been violated); United States v. Gross, 41 F.Supp.2d 1096, 1098 (C.D. Cal. 1999) aff’d 40 Fed. Appx. 397 (9th Cir. 2002) (US Attorney’s Manual did not create enforceable rights).

Officer Lightner testified that his body microphone was accidentally muted when his vest pushed the mute button as he was getting out of his patrol car. This did not violate any of defendant’s rights.

. . .

Here, the uncontroverted evidence is that the officers were called to the residence on a disturbance; when they arrived they heard loud arguing coming from within the residence; when Sonya Wiggins saw them approaching the residence, she began waving for them to come in; Ms. Wiggins yelled that someone had a gun; when the officers entered the residence, they heard a metal clinking sound which they believed to be the sound of a gun being dropped into a metal sink; Ms. Wiggins was yelling that he had a gun and was trying to hide it in the sink; there were other people present besides defendant and Ms. Wiggins; and the officers did not yet know the circumstances of the disturbance which prompted the call for help to the police other than hearing loud arguing and a female screaming that a male had a gun. I find that a reasonable officer would have believed that an emergency was at hand. Therefore, the entry into the residence was lawful, and the search of the sink for the gun was lawful pursuant to the community caretaking function of the police.

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