Video Evidence of Traffic Law Violation
Kermit asked: I recently spoke with a Sheriff’s deputy concerning and incident with the driver of a rental truck. In our conversation the deputy told me that the only way law enforcement would issue a citation to a driver was if a deputy or officer was present when the violation occurred or if I was involved in an accident.
I asked him about the mandatory 3-foot law and about evidence from a helmet camera. He stated that video from a helmet camera would not hold up in court. My question is how accurate is that statement.
For instance, would video evidence from a helmet cam (or from my smartphone) of a car-bicycle crash be inadmissible in court? Was he saying that law enforcement could not issue a citation based on my “private video evidence.”
Does using a camera while riding my bike afford me any sort of legal protection? If so what are those circumstances?
You will have to ask an attorney what evidence can be presented in court. My guess is that video of a crash could be used as evidence, just as video is used to confirm criminal acts and to identify suspects in crimes. The Boston Marathon bombing for example.
That the officer must witness the incident is the usual answer about most traffic violations. Most are non-criminal violations and as far as I know that is correct.
I am aware of situations that were not witnessed by an officer that were investigated by police departments after being reported to the department after the fact. As far as I know, they were presented as possible criminal acts. The striking of a bicyclist with a belt by a person in a motor vehicle. Running the cyclist off the road in an attempt to intimidate or injure. They were not investigated as traffic violations, but criminal violations.
My belief is that video of a violation the three-foot law can only be used as evidence if the camera is calibrated for accuracy and measurements can be verified objectively. That could probably only be accomplished by a police department sting type operation.
Comments by any readers who are attorneys or police officers or other authorities would be welcome.
It is not entirely correct (as sometimes stated) that a officer must always “observe” or “witness” a traffic infraction in order to issue a citation. Section 316.640, F.S., describes the enforcements powers of different types of officers.
A trained “traffic infraction enforcement officer” employed by a municipality or sheriff’s department “who observes the commission of a traffic infraction” may issue a citation if “personal investigation” finds “probable grounds” (s. 316.640(5)(a)). They have no authorization to issue a traffic citation without observing an infraction.
However, a trained “traffic crash investigation officer [employed by a sheriff’s department or municipality] who makes an investigation at the scene of a traffic crash is authorized to issue a traffic citation when, based upon personal investigation, he or she has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a person involved in the crash has committed an offense…” (s. 316.640(2)(b) and (3)(b)).
Thus, a traffic crash investigation officer need not necessarily observe an infraction in order to issue a citation. However, if no crash occurred, they have no authorization to issue a citation.
There have been reports of cyclists’ videocam recordings being used by police in other states to investigate crashes reported by the cyclists (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/technology/bicyclists-using-cameras-to-capture-accidents.html ).