An Important New Decision Concerning Arrest Videos

The Illinois Supreme Court issued a very important decision last week concerning the preservation of video recorded evidence.  The opinion can be found here: People v. Kladis, 2011 IL 110920.

In this case, the defendant was arrested by an officer of the Northlake Police Department.  Northlake had a policy to erase arrest videos after 30 days.  In this case, the video was erased on the 31rst day after the arrest — which happened to be several hours before the defendant’s first court date.

The defense attorney in this case failed to subpoena or otherwise contact the police department before the court date.  However, the attorney had filed and served the State’s Attorney with both a Petition to Rescind the Statutory Summary Suspension and a Notice to Produce pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 237 within five days of the arrest.

The State’s Attorney argued that discovery in misdemeanor cases is limited, pursuant to a 1974 decision, People v. Schmidt, 56 Ill.2d 572 (1974).

However, the Supreme Court stated that “Since the time of Schmidt, the use of video recordings as evidence at trial has become a common practice to allow a defendant the opportunity to present an effective defense and to further the truth-seeking process…the routine video recording of traffic stops has now become an integral part of those encounters, objectively documenting what takes place by capturing the conduct of both parties.”

The Supreme Court further held that the trial court has great leeway to impose appropriate sanctions for the destruction of discoverable evidence.  In the case before it, a judge in Maywood had barred the arresting officer from testifying as to any facts that would have been recorded on his squad car video.

It has been a great frustration to me as a defense attorney to learn that an arrest video has been destroyed before I had a chance to review it.  This case was especially egregious because Northlake was destroying evidence after 30 days, when this case, as are most first court dates, are set after 30 days.  And when, in this day and age, it is very easy to store arrest videos on a CD-ROM or disk drive.  So I welcome this decision as wise and courageous, and in the best interests of all parties.

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