Unless you live in a cave, by now you have likely heard about Ray Rice, the NFL player who was cut by the Baltimore Ravens after his video-taped domestic violence incident went viral. So I’m not going to talk about him. But reading about him, and watching the video, made me think about some other aspects of my business. It made me think how there are two sides to every story. It made me think about how we are all innocent until proven guilty and how quickly people jump to conclusions and it made me think about how technology plays a part in criminal defense more than it ever has before.
Who would have thought there would be a surveillance video recorder in the elevator? These days there seems to be video of almost everything. Here in California we have video on board almost every California Highway Patrol car, with audio as well. LAPD cars have video as well. Gas stations have video, banks have video, and even fast food restaurants have video. Police stations have video. Police often videotape after there is any use of force and supervision is called out to the scene of a police incident. Use of force interviews are often videotaped after the fact.
How does this technology play a part in my job? First, we must all understand my job. My job is to do everything I can to see that my clients arenot convicted of ANY crime. Of course, that is not always humanly possible. If I cannot get the case dismissed, next in line is to try to get the charges reduced. After that, my job is to minimize any punishment for my clients and, of course, to try to minimize any other fallout which could affect my clients.
That being said, technology doesn’t always help my clients. However, thorough investigation and often does help my clients. First, the person who is often in the best position to help a client is the client him or herself. The client was there, and absent some type of impairment or injury, they saw and heard firsthand what happened. Thus, a complete andthorough client interview is conducted whenever possible. I always try and do this before the client views any police reports so as not to taint their memory of the events with the reports which are often slanted in favor of law enforcement. Next, I normally send the client home with a small homework assignment. I ask them to sit down in front of their computer and in as much detail as possible, write down everything that happened, starting before contact with law enforcement and ending after. Again, this is to be done before viewing a police report.
Thereafter we get the initial police reports. Invariably the reports tell a different story than the client. Often the two have similarities, but the stories are being told from different perspectives and take on different points of view. Here is where the technology comes in. If the version of the story told by the police is too far askew to be considered truthful, a video of the incident might help to convince a prosecutor, judge or jury that my client was in the right.
Let’s take for example the case of a DUI. The client comes into the office, says he didn’t do anything wrong and was pulled over by the CHP and then arrested for DUI. The CHP officer writes a report indicating that my client was weaving between lanes and was thereafter pulled over. The way the CHP video works is simple. When the officer activates his emergency lights, the video system automatically backs up 60 seconds and begins recording the incident. If there is no weaving, it will be on the video. The audio may also be very helpful. When we hear the clients speaking on the video, we can tell if their speech is slurred. When we see the client step out of the car we can see if they are able to walk normally or if they have an “unsteady gait”. Please understand that video and audio does not always work in our favor, but it does help to keep the police honest.
In Ray Rice’s case, it may be too late to do anything for him. He did take responsibility for his actions at the early stages of the proceedings and enter a pre-trial diversion program. He started domestic violence counseling classes and has put his criminal case to bed. His lawyer appears to have done an excellent job of resolving the matter in quick and beneficial manner.
Here in California we don’t have pretrial diversion for domestic battery. Rather, we have mandatory minimum punishments for domestic violence under Penal Code Section 1203.097 three years of probation are required with court progress reports every 90 days. 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling are required. Mandatory fees and fines are required and you can’t own a gun for 10 years. You can also face jail of up to a year for a misdemeanor and substantial prison time for a felony.
Faced with those consequences and what appears to be a very damaging video, then what do we do? Simply put, we do our job. The first time I watched Ray’s video I asked myself a few questions: Did she hit him? What part did she play in this? Was his hand opened or closed? Did he didn’t intend to have her head hit that railing? What did he do after he hit her?
With these thoughts in mind, I would quickly seek to have the video enhanced – the entire video. I would quickly seek to interview any potential witnesses. This includes our “victim” as well as other percipient witnesses like casino staff, bar staff, media who may have been present and seen or heard parts of the incident. My investigation is often more extensive than that of law enforcement. Thus, we may find that our “victim” is violent, volatile and played a part in starting this fight. Remember what I said in the first paragraph: There are two sides to every story. Sometimes it just takes the right lawyer to find our way to the other side and obtain the best possible results for our clients.
If you have arrested or charged with a crime, call me:
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or
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