SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday backed up a judge who punished the prosecution after video of a drunken driving arrest was destroyed, a decision establishing that defendants have a right to see video evidence even in misdemeanor cases.
The defendant had made clear that she would fight the charges and wanted the squad-car video of her arrest. The court said that even though the Cook County case was a misdemeanor, police and prosecutors had a duty to preserve the video instead of routinely erasing it after 30 days.
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"In sum, we conclude that 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 and the words of both parties," Justice Charles Freeman wrote for the unanimous Supreme Court.
The trial judge, as punishment for the video being erased, barred the arresting officer from testifying about anything that took place while the camera was running. Judge William Wise said it was the third time in three weeks that he had encountered video evidence being erased.
Prosecutors objected to such strict limitations on the police officer's testimony, but the Supreme Court said the judge was within his authority.
The case dates back to May 3, 2008, when Marina Kladis was stopped in Northlake. After she refused to take a Breathalyzer test, Kladis was charged with drunken driving and her license was suspended.
Five days later, she filed paperwork saying she would fight the accusations and wanted prosecutors to produce any video evidence.
Despite this, Northlake police followed their policy of erasing video after 30 days. The prosecution argued that didn't matter because video is not one of the kinds of evidence that prosecutors must turn over to defendants in misdemeanor cases.
The state Supreme Court disagreed Friday. It said the types of evidence subject to discovery can change with time, and video has become so commonplace that defendants should expect to review it.
Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys' Association, said most states probably already guarantee defendants access to video in similar cases. And police typically would preserve video until a case is resolved, he said.
Kladis' attorney, Edward Maloney, called the ruling major and said it should help innocent people protect themselves in court.
"This will provide more evidence toward reasonable doubt," he said.