Read This Post Before You Buy a Dashboard Camera

by | May 27, 2021 | Car Accidents, Truck Accidents

There is an old saying among lawyers that a picture is worth a thousand words. Photographic evidence, especially today’s high-definition video, is often more emotionally compelling than a witness’ oral testimony. There are legal differences as well. Lawyers can attack eyewitness credibility. But as outlined below, camera footage is usually bulletproof.

Dash cameras are becoming increasingly popular. Front-facing cameras are basically mobile eyewitnesses in many car wreck claims. Ridesharing operators often install rear-facing cameras to use in any future dispute which involves a disgruntled passenger.

However, before you install a dash camera, always talk to a Lexington personal injury lawyer. Such cameras almost always open a legal can of worms. Sometimes, the benefit of having a camera outweighs the risk, and sometimes the opposite is true.

Using Camera Footage in a Legal Dispute

Generally, people install dash cameras so the footage can serve as evidence in a potential criminal, civil, or administrative hearing. The rules of evidence in administrative hearings, like a ridesharing dispute, vary significantly. But the rules in criminal and civil court are fairly clear-cut.

Perhaps most importantly, the camera’s operator must testify, in open court, that the recorded footage fairly and accurately records the events which took place on X date at Y time in Z location.

The other side’s attorney, who is usually a prosecutor or insurance company defense lawyer, can cross-examine this witness on this point. These questions usually revolve around any editing or other alteration that the operator may have performed. Even in criminal court, an attorney need not conclusively prove that the footage was doctored. A reasonable doubt is enough in criminal court. The standard is even lower in civil court.

On a related note, chain of custody could be an issue, unless a lawyer plugs the camera directly into a screen. That’s usually not the case. Typically, the camera operator downloads the footage to inspect it. Frequently, a lawyer inspects it as well. Something else, such as editing or other alteration, might have happened as well.

Finally, the presenting party must prove that the camera was in good, working order. Modern cameras are quite sensitive. Unless the camera operator properly maintained the device, some jurors could have some questions about its accuracy. As mentioned above, some doubt is usually enough for jurors to discount the evidence.

Apropos of nothing, if you install a camera in your vehicle, once you turn it on, never turn it off. That’s almost a sure sign that you have something to hide. If you have a regular on/off schedule, like on at 6am and off at 10pm every day, that might be okay. However, expect the other side’s lawyer to grill you in this area.

Dash Cameras and Traffic Laws

Most of us are aware of the Daunte Wright case. During the George Floyd murder trial, Minnesota officers pulled Wright over because he had a dangling air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but any way you look at it, this police stop ended very badly for everyone involved.

In Minnesota and most other states, including Kentucky, it’s illegal for any object to obstruct the driver’s front-facing view. That could be an air freshener, rosary beads, work ID badge, camera, radar detector, and the list goes on. 

Traffic codes are full of obscure provisions such as this one. For example, license plate frames which obscure part of the information on the plate are illegal as well. Additionally, under current law, officers may detain motorists who did not technically break the law, as long as the officer reasonably believed that the driver was a lawbreaker.

Generally, police officers do not bother with such matters. However, if the driver does not “look right” for some reason, officers can and do pull them over based on obscure infractions like this one. Boredom stops and quota stops are not uncommon either. Issuing citations breaks up the monotony of driving around all day. Also, some supervisors instruct some officers to write more tickets.

So, if you have a dash camera in Kentucky, an officer could pull you over, but the chances are slim. Furthermore, if you have outstanding warrants, a bad temper, or a problem with authority, a dash camera could get you into trouble. A Lexington personal injury attorney can advise you about the law, but the install-or-not-install decision is yours alone.

On a brief, final note, dash cameras could involve some privacy issues. However, Kentucky is a one-party consent state. It’s illegal to record a conversation unless one party consents. In other words, you can give yourself permission to record this conversation. There are also eavesdropping and voyeurism laws on the books. But they almost never apply to in-vehicle recordings.

Installing a dash camera might involve some unanticipated and unwanted legal problems. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers