Mitch Zamoff of the University of Minnesota Law School has written the article “Assessing the Impact of Police Body Camera Evidence on the Litigation of Excessive Force Cases” (Georgia Law Review). The following is the introduction.

In the wake of several hotly debated and widely publicized shootings of civilians by police officers, calls for the increased use of bodyworn cameras (bodycams) by law enforcement officers have intensified. As police departments across the country expand their use of this emergent technology, courts will increasingly be presented with video evidence from bodycams when making determinations in cases alleging the excessive use of force by the police. This Article tests the hypotheses that bodycam evidence will be dispositive in most excessive force cases and that such evidence will positively impact the way those cases are litigated and decided. In doing so, it presents the first review of the evidentiary impact of bodycams on the outcomes of excessive force cases. By compiling and evaluating the first data set of reported excessive force cases filed in the federal courts involving bodycam evidence, this Article makes several findings about how this highly anticipated evidence is affecting excessive force litigation and jurisprudence. Those findings include (1) about one third of all bodycam videos submitted in support of defense summary judgment motions do not capture the entire incident at issue in the lawsuit; (2) whether a bodycam video is complete or partial has a profound impact on summary judgment outcomes in bodycam cases; (3) bodycam evidence improves defendants’ likelihood of success on summary judgment in excessive force cases only if the bodycam video is complete; (4) defendants are actually more likely to prevail on summary judgment in excessive force cases without any bodycam video evidence than in cases with a partial bodycam video; and (5) summary judgment motions are filed and adjudicated more expeditiously in excessive force cases with bodycam videos (especially complete videos) than cases without bodycam evidence. These findings illustrate both the benefits and limitations ocurrent bodycam technology, suggest the need for America’s police departments to accelerate the adoption of bodycam programs and promulgate policies that will maximize the evidentiary value and accuracy of bodycam evidence, and highlight the need for continued research to inform policy and funding determinations related to the use of bodycams by law enforcement. 

Citation:
Zamoff, Mitchell, Assessing the Impact of Police Body Camera Evidence on the Litigation of Excessive Force Cases (February 19, 2020). 54 Georgia Law Review 1 (2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3541318

Mitchell Zamoff

University of Minnesota Law School

Mitchell Zamoff is the director of the University of Minnesota Law School’s litigation program, chair of the civil litigation concentration, and co-director of the law in practice program. He teaches civil procedure, alternative dispute resolution, evidence, evidence drafting, and law in practice. He is a recipient of the Kinyon Teacher of the Year award. A member of the Council of the American Arbitration Association, Professor Zamoff also serves as an arbitrator and mediator.

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