Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

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It’s beginning to seem like another day, another police shooting video.  We’ve all seen the videos — Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  The videos go viral, folks become outraged, protests are sparked….but that outrage does not always translate in the court of law. 

Why is it, that if these cases get to trial, that the videos do not trigger a quick guilty verdict? Often the outcome is the exact opposite of that.

The simple answer is desensitization. The video is shocking the first couple times you see it, but after a while, the impact lessens.  The same way we see kids become desensitized to violence after repeatedly playing violent video games or watching scary movies, is the same way jurors become desensitized after the repeated playing of a troubling video.

There’s no real solution — but it is food for thought.  

Ben Hancock at Law.com wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon.

SAN FRANCISCO – Viral videos of police shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in their final moments have left much of the American public seething, saddened and convinced that deep-rooted racial bias led the officers to fire their weapons.

But as compelling as the videos are—and as important as they have become in the broader debate about law enforcement and race—they rarely have the same decisive impact in court that they have on the way the public perceives an event.

Lawyers who have been involved in police shooting cases and dealt with videos as evidence say that often a case rises or falls on what the camera didn’t capture. Attorneys representing accused officers point to a camera’s technical limitations, or the fact that it didn’t see the angle the officer saw, which can wither a criminal or civil rights case targeting the officer.

Sometimes, the more a video is played in court, the less impact it has, and desensitizing a jury to a video’s violence often emerges as a deliberate defense strategy—as does drawing the jury’s attention to uncertainty around what happened immediately before the camera was turned on.

See the rest here.

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