It is common in DUI cases to review patrol car video of the initial stop to help determine whether that stop was legally justified (something to be considered in any DUI case where a police officer has initiated a stop of the Defendant's vehicle). Though the video can in some cases be very helpful in determining the question one way or another, it is not the only evidence available. Witness testimony, including testimony of the police officer initiating the stop, is also important. DUI stops often occur after dark, when lighting conditions are poor. Camera sensors are not nearly as good at seeing in the dark as is the human eye. In the case of a video that is inconclusive, witness testimony can still be conclusive. That was the case in the recent Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals opinion in State v. Patterson, M2010-02360-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 8-22-2011).
In that case, the trial court listened to testimony from the officer who initiated the stop of the Defendant's vehicle. The trial court reviewed the video recording events leading to the stop. The video was poor quality due to poor lighting. The trial court acknowledged it was inconclusive. But the Defendant's challenge to the stop was denied and the Defendant was convicted of DUI.
On appeal, the Defendant argued two Tennessee cases in which the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed convictions after finding that the video evidence did not support a legal basis for the initial stop. State v. Binette, 33 S.W.3d 215 (Tenn. 2000) and State v. Garcia, 123 S.W.3d 335 (Tenn. 2003). In the Binette case, the State had not presented at the suppression hearing the testimony of the officer initiating the stop. So the ruling had to be based on the video, which did not show a specific valid basis for a stop. In the Garcia case, the video, in the Court's view, contradicted the testimony of the testifying officer.
In the Patterson case, the Court of Criminal Appeals found the video to be inconclusive. However, though it did not corroborate the testimony of the officer, it also did not contradict it. The video itself did not offer enough information to determine whether the Defendant was swerving across lanes as described by the officer. But the officer specifically testified that the Defendant was swerving and that testimony, accredited by the trial court, was sufficient for the trial court to find that the State had established reasonable suspicion for the stop.
For more information on what evidence may support a legal basis for the stop of a vehicle, contact Hindman & Associates.