Prosecuting attorney concerned about potential impact of body cameras

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Spalding County Senior Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Schwartz acknowledges she has concerns regarding the use of law enforcement body cameras and the manner in which they may impact criminal prosecutions.
Schwartz cited the same section of the Georgia Code as Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council Executive Director Chuck Spahos – 16-11-62 – and said it may negatively affect the usefulness of video recordings in criminal trials.
That section of Georgia’s eavesdropping law states that when video recordings are being made in locations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, all parties being taped must consent to that action. Failure to do so prior to recording is a felony under Georgia law.
“From the prosecutorial standpoint, we also have to look at 16.11.67 which states, “No evidence obtained in a manner which violates any of the provisions of this part shall be admissible in any court of this state except to prove violations of this part,’” Schwartz said.
This means that if an officer enters a location where people have an expectation of privacy and do not consent to being filmed, no images captured on that recording are legally admissible in a court of law.
“My concern as a prosecutor would be a motion to suppress that a defense attorney could file to suppress that evidence,” she said.
This, however, is far from her only concern regarding body camera use as they relate to criminal prosecutions.
“I think that prosecutors are supportive of the idea of body cams and I think that more often than not, they will support the state’s side of the case. However, like anything technological, body cams can malfunction, have technical issues, that sort of thing,” she said, adding that she is concerned this may result in a higher degree of skepticism from the public.
She also expressed an additional and perhaps more troubling concern.
“I think that any time body cams go into general use in a department, you’re setting an expectation on the part of jurors that every police action will be recorded,” she said. “I do have some concern this will be an artificial expectation because technology is technology – sometimes it fails,” Schwartz said. “Similar to the ‘CSI Effect,’ I hope we never reach the point in our society where the sworn testimony of a peace officer is not sufficient – the mindset that if there’s no video, it didn’t happen.”

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