One critical piece of evidence in DWI cases is videotape evidence. Many police cars throughout New Jersey, including the State Police, are equipped with “MVR” or a dashboard camera. This can show whether or not you actually violated a traffic law leading to a DWI arrest and whether your performance on sobriety testing was poor enough to charge you with drunk driving. Call my office to speak with an experienced DWI defense lawyer. We can answer your questions and discuss what defenses are available to you.
The loss or destruction of videotape evidence by the State prior to the trial of a Defendant may constitute a due process violation requiring dismissal of the case. In this regard, New Jersey has adopted the rule of law expressed by the United States Supreme Court in Brady, supra, 373 U.S. 83. Simply stated, our Supreme Court has held that the withholding of material evidence favorable to a defendant is a denial of due process and the right to a fair trial, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. State v. Carter, 69 N.J. 420, 432–433, 354 A.2d 627, 634 (1976). The test is whether the material evidence could induce reasonable doubt as to the verdict or tend to exculpate the defendant Id. at 433–434, 354 A.2d at 634.
Material evidence in this context means that the withheld evidence must possess both an exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was lost, and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain a substitute or comparable evidence by other reasonably available means. California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 489, 104 S.Ct. 2528, 2534, 81 L.Ed.2d 413 (1984); State v. Colasurdo 214 N.J.Super. 185, 186-192, 518 A.2d 768, 768 – 771 (App. Div. 1986). Whatever duty the constitution imposes on the state to preserve evidence, that duty must be limited to evidence that might be expected to play a significant role in the suspect’s defense. To meet this standard of constitutional materiality, evidence must both possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means. State v. Washington, 165 N.J.Super. 149 (App. Div. 1979).
In this state, the determination of whether there is a due process violation when evidence has been either lost, destroyed or improperly suppressed by the State in a criminal trial focuses on three essential factors: (1) Whether there was bad faith or connivance on the part of the prosecution in the loss of the evidence; (2) Whether the lost evidence was sufficiently material to the defense; and (3) Whether the defendant was prejudiced by the loss of the evidence. State v. Hollander, 201 N.J.Super. 453, 479, 493 A.2d 563, 577 (App. Div. 1985); Colasurdo, supra, 214 N.J.Super., at 189, A.2d, at 769 (App. Div.1986).
Thus, dismissal of a complaint on due process grounds will not be warranted when the proofs demonstrate that the loss of the evidence by the prosecution was merely inadvertent as opposed to purposeful, unless there is a showing that the evidence is both material and favorable to the defendant. State v. Carter, 85 N.J. 300, 311, 426 A.2d 501, 506 (1981); State v. Laganella, 144 N.J.Super. 268, 281–282, 365 A.2d 224, 231–232 (App. Div.1976).
In, Colasurdo supra, 214 N.J.Super., at 186-192, the Defendant was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 after being subjected to two breathalyzer tests, both of which indicated a .30% blood alcohol content. At trial, the state was unable to produce a videotape of the incident. Ibid. The police conducted an investigation into the cause of the missing tape that did not reveal any indication that the tape “was purposely destroyed or reused or removed from that department.” Ibid. The court found that there was no bad faith in the loss of the videotape. Ibid. On Defendant’s appeal to the Law Division, the court dismissed the complaint against defendant based on the missing videotape. Ibid. The State appealed the order dismissing the complaint. Ibid.
On appeal, the state argued that Defendant failed to demonstrate that loss of the videotape constituted a suppression of evidence which was exculpatory or otherwise material to Defendant’s preparation of his case and thus, did not result in a deprivation of due process under the rule of Brady so as to warrant a dismissal. Ibid.
The Appellate Court found that Defendant failed to establish that the missing videotape possessed any exculpatory value and failed to show that he “would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.” Id. citing Trombetta, 467 U.S. at 489, 104 S.Ct. at 2534, 81 L.Ed.2d at 422. Nor did he rebut the testimony of the two witnesses concerning his inability to complete the balance tests at the station.
If you think that videotape evidence can be used as a defense in your DWI case, call now to speak with an experienced defense lawyer. Your best move to obtain legal advice right away.
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