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The Strange Case of Police Dashboard Cams, Limits on Public Disclosure, and How Limits Do Not Apply to a Criminal Defendant

Posted by Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney | Nov 21, 2014 | 0 Comments


Police cars in and around Seattle, including in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, have cameras on their dashes that tape what occurs in front of the car. To those accused of a DUI, these cameras can be a godsend.

Police officers are humans. Their actions during an incident can be twisted by their emotions or their human inability to perceive everything perfectly. When they write their police report hours later, they may not clearly remember the incident on which they are writing. This is not an indictment of police officers. They, like the rest of us, are not perfect.

Dash cams, on the other hand, do not make mistakes. They are objective. What they capture does not change in the hours after the event occurred. They are often the only complete and accurate recording, written or visual, of a traffic stop.

For a DUI defendant, this is of great importance. Perhaps the video shows a defendant doing much better on his or her field sobriety test than the officer conveyed on his report. Or, that the defendant did not, in fact, stumble out of his or her car when exiting it. Regardless of the reason, these recordings can be essential to a DUI defense. This is why it is imperative that those accused of a DUI understand their rights regarding them.

Over the summer, the Supreme Court of Washington published an opinion holding that, as a matter of statutory interpretation, police dash cams were public records that must be released upon a request from a member of the public. The only exception to this rule is if the video is a part of ongoing litigation.

Do not be confused by this case if you hear about it. To be clear, the exception outlined above does not mean that DUI defendants are unable themselves to get a hold of the dashboard camera during their litigation. It only applies to the public at large while proceedings against the defendant are ongoing.

Under Washington Superior Court Criminal Rule 4.7, and the matching rule for District and Municipal Courts, prosecutors must disclose all information pertinent to a criminal case to the defense, with the exception of their work product and the identity of their informants. This includes “any electronic surveillance, including wiretapping, of the defendant's premises or conversations to which the defendant was a party and any record thereof.”

Defendants also have a Due Process Right under the U.S. constitution to any evidence favorable to their case. If a prosecutor violates either of these, there is a good chance that your charge will disappear into the Seattle mist.

If you are accused of a DUI in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, make sure you and your attorney get a copy of the video of your arrest. It will surely provide you a chance to refresh your recollection of your arrest. It may also give you the opportunity to notice something that makes the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.

About the Author

Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney

Highly rated by former clients, who praise his warm, knowledgeable courtside manner and his fierce determination to reduce or eliminate charges. An accomplished speaker, author, and leader in DUI defense statewide Kevin is well respected by judges, prosecutors, and other attorneys across the State of Washington for his expertise, integrity, and knowledge in the complicated forensic science area of impaired driving allegations.


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