Humans are visual animals. That is why the power of video evidence can be so persuasive in a trial. Combine that with the fact that video and surveillance cameras are seemingly everywhere, and it feels like every crime gets caught on video, and when it does, there is no defense.
In many cases, there are stories behind video. Someone who is supposedly caught on video committing a crime still has every right to his or her constitutional rights, including a trial and a defense.
Officer Charged with Brutality
Such was the case recently when a police officer was put on trial for allegedly brutalizing a suspect during the course of an arrest. The officer was caught on video from a helicopter camera overhead, allegedly hitting, kicking and spitting on a suspect who had fled from arrest.
The state alleged that the officer had gone too far. The officer defended by saying he was uncertain if the suspect was armed, and had to act quickly to immobilize the suspect. He also denied spitting on the suspect, a detail that could not be seen from the video camera overhead.
Officer Counters Video Evidence
The video is shocking on first glance, showing what seems to be a man being beaten long after he had surrendered to his arrest. But the officer’s attorneys slowed down the video, analyzing it piece by piece for the jury to see. Every move made by the officer on trial was also broken down by a police procedures expert.
The result was that the jurors felt that the video was inconclusive, as it could not be determined if reasonable force was used or needed from the angle and distance at which the video was taken. The state also provided testimony from other officers on the scene, but their testimony was also not enough to meet the State’s burden of proving the officer had assaulted the man beyond a reasonable doubt.
The officer was acquitted, and the state is now taking criticism for its decision to prosecute solely for what it saw on a video.
Mixed Message in the Result
The verdict can be read as a victory for criminal defendants who have hope that they can have a jury hear the whole story, even when it seemingly contradicts video evidence. Of course, many also say that the case condones excess police brutality and that an officer got away with unreasonable force even though he was caught on camera.
In an unusual twist, the jury waited around the courtroom after the trial, to congratulate the officer on his service. Even if jurors gave this particular defendant some leeway because of his status as an officer, that is not an unusual circumstance.
Jurors are often called upon to make determinations on credibility and believability in the face of conflicting evidence or testimony. Often, if the defendant is someone the jurors like or respect, that conflict will be resolved in the defendant’s favor.
If you are charged with a crime you are entitled to a defense in court. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights in a criminal trial.