Prosecutorial and Public Defender Perceptions: Anticipated Impact of Police Body Worn Cameras on Jurors' Decision Making

O. Nicholas Robertson, John D. McCluskey, Shakierah S. Smith, Craig D. Uchida, and Damon Mosler

This research studies how prosecutors and public defenders (PDs) in three counties adapt to body-worn cameras (BWCs) in their everyday practice and the perceived value of BWC video as evidence in their cases. More specifically, the researchers consider prosecutorial and PD notions regarding the effect of BWC footage on jurors’ expectations and the effect of BWCs on juror decision making. The resulting article reviews the literature with a focus on decision making, the role uncertainty plays in negotiation, and how new evidence, such as the CSI effect (unrealistic citizen/juror expectations about the types and extent of forensic evidence, or in this context, video, available in a criminal case), is anticipated to influence juries and jurors. The CSI effect, resulting from an overwhelming amount of crime television shows, explains the widespread phenomenon of civilians’ misperceptions of the practicality of the criminal justice system. Qualitative results drawn from in-depth interviews inform quantitative analyses from surveys. This is a summary of a larger report, scheduled for release in the coming months.

Methods

This research involved data collection in three jurisdictions: Monroe County, New York; San Diego County, California; and Travis County, Texas. The researchers administered online surveys to prosecutors and PDs in each county, with a total of 217 prosecutors and 107 PDs surveyed. Prosecutors had a 53 percent response rate; PDs had a 41 percent response rate.

The researchers focus on four items in the electronic survey that address the perceived impact of BWCs on adjudication processes. The first three statements offer five response options: strongly disagree, disagree, no opinion, agree, and strongly agree:
1. BWC video evidence results in higher rates of plea bargaining
2. Plea bargaining has increased since the implementation of police BWCs
3. Juries favor BWC video evidence over testimony

The fourth question asks respondents if they are highly concerned, somewhat concerned, or not at all concerned with jurors questioning key testimony when BWC video footage is not available.

The researchers also collected qualitative data through 40 in-depth interviews with prosecutors and PDs at the research sites, with the exception of PDs in Travis County. They asked two specific questions of respondents:
1. Are there growing expectations among potential jurors about the availability of BWC footage?
2. What is your perception of the impact of BWC on juries’ decision making?

Results

In response to the questions listed above, the research team obtained the following quantitative and
qualitative results.

Quantitative Survey Results

The majority of prosecutors and PDs agreed with the statement that video results in higher levels of plea
bargaining, and a chi-square test indicated no statistically discernible difference across the two groups
of respondents. Only 35 percent of prosecutors and 28 percent of PDs agreed or strongly agreed that
plea bargaining increased since BWC implementation, and the differences across groups in terms of
response were not statistically different. These two findings may seem contradictory; however, it is
important to note that in their response to the statement that “video evidence results in higher rates of
plea bargaining,” the attorneys are referring to the future impact of BWC on case processing in their
particular jurisdiction.

More than 90 percent of prosecutors and nearly 80 percent of PDs agreed or strongly agreed that juries
favored video evidence over testimony. Again, there were no statistically distinguishable differences
between group responses.

By contrast, prosecutors responded with statistically significant higher levels of concern (only 2 percent
of prosecutors, compared to 23 percent of PDs, were “not at all concerned”) regarding jurors
questioning key testimony when BWC video footage is not available.

In sum, we see important convergence regarding the impact of BWCs on negotiations toward plea
bargains across the groups, with both affirming a strong jury preference for BWC video, and a
divergence in the consequence of video absence in how jurors may weigh testimony. This backdrop on
the two groups provides a foundation for exploring the responses obtained from the more in-depth
interviews executed on site during late summer and early fall 2018.

Qualitative Survey Results

Prosecutor’s perceptions of juror expectations related to BWC availability

San Diego County, California

The prosecutors interviewed in San Diego reported that there are growing expectations among potential
jurors about the availability of BWC videos. The surveyed prosecutors believed this expectation is due to
the “CSI Effect,” in which popular crime dramas influence citizens’ understanding of justice system
procedures. They perceived that jurors are exposed to BWCs via various types of media and bring those
expectations with them when they serve on juries. Additionally, the ubiquitous nature of video via cell
phones and other types of video surveillance heightens expectations even in the absence of BWC. They
reported that jurors are suspicious of officer and witness testimony and credibility if BWC video is not
presented at trial.

Travis County, Texas

All of the Travis County prosecutors perceived that jurors expect that BWC video will be available during
trial. Additionally, jurors do not like when footage is missing, and will question why a police officer chose
to turn off the BWC. The prosecutors stated that there is a CSI “mindset” regarding BWC use such that
jurors expect what they view on television.

Monroe County, New York

All but one Monroe County prosecutor reported that there are growing expectations among jurors
regarding the availability of BWCs. The majority of the attorneys reported a CSI effect due to media
exposure to BWCs. Prosecutors believed that jurors expect court proceedings to mirror those that they
view on television (with regard to the quality of BWC images), prefer to see evidence instead of relying
on the testimony of the police, and are suspicious of police testimony when BWC video should be
present but is not.

Prosecutor’s perceptions of impact on juror decision making

San Diego, California

Prosecutors in San Diego reported that BWC video has significant evidentiary value and plays an
important role in juror decision making. More specifically, they stated that jurors use BWCs when
determining the credibility of witnesses and that BWC footage carries more weight than live testimony.
The threshold to prove a case has increased due to BWCs. BWC video gives jurors an opportunity to see
what officers deal with, and that most officers do the right thing most of the time, which is contrary to
what they view via media. BWC video plays an important role in particular types of cases, such as
domestic violence, recanting witnesses, and those involving officer misbehavior or victimization.

Travis County, Texas

The majority of Travis County prosecutors believed that jurors rely heavily on BWC footage in decision
making, and that it is a critical piece of evidence. They reported that jurors want to be sure that they are
making the correct decision and that video evidence is an objective manner by which to determine a
defendant’s guilt or innocence.

Monroe County, New York

Monroe County prosecutors reported that BWC video has a significant impact on juror decision making.
Jurors are skeptical of police if no BWC video is available when it should be, and the prosecutor is not
viewed favorably when jurors see police officers engage in “bad behavior” or do not follow proper BWC
protocol. They also reported that BWC video is important in particular types of cases, namely driving
while intoxicated (DWI), officer use-of-force, and assaults on officers.

PD’s perceptions of juror expectations related to BWC video availability

San Diego County, California

According to the PDs that were interviewed in San Diego County, California, juror expectations of the
availability of BWC video depends on level of education and the CSI Effect.

Monroe County, New York

Approximately one-third of the PDs interviewed in Monroe County invoked the CSI Effect in their
perceptions of juror expectations about BWCs. PDs believed that jurors expect that BWC video will be
available based on what they see in the media. A few PDs also stated that they would hope that jurors
expect BWC footage. If footage is not available or not used according to the standing orders of the
police department, the PDs use that fact as part of their larger strategy to defend their clients.

PD’s perceptions of impact on juror decision making

San Diego County, California

San Diego PDs perceived that jurors expect to have BWC video at trial and struggle to make decisions
when it is missing. They also stated that BWC video makes it easier for jurors to discern the facts of a
case and that jurors prefer BWC video over testimony.

Monroe County, New York

Roughly half of the PDs reported that they think BWC video will be helpful or they hope it will be helpful
in juror decision making. They also stated that jurors are suspicious when officers do not follow BWC
protocol and that BWC video can enhance or detract from the credibility of witnesses.

Conclusions

The impact that the widespread introduction of BWC technology in American policing has had on local
prosecution has received relatively scant attention. This research aimed to fill this gap by exploring three
local county prosecutor’s offices and public defender’s offices via mixed methods research design. The
results from these three jurisdictions indicate that prosecutors and PDs believe BWCs have an effect on
adjudication processes and reinforce prosecutorial concern about cases with an absence of video. Inperson
interviews more deeply probe these questions and yield insights about a CSI effect that video has
on juror expectancy.

 

Read the Fact Sheet here.


O. Nicholas Robertson, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the Rochester
Institute of Technology. His most recent research has appeared in Race and Justice and he is currently working on
the impact of body-worn video on the work of local prosecutors and public defenders. He earned his doctorate in
Sociology from the University at Buffalo.

John D. McCluskey, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the Rochester Institute of
Technology. His most recent work includes research on police decision making, emerging technology and its impact
on criminal justice, and teacher victimization. He earned his PhD from University at Albany’s School of Criminal
Justice.

Shakierah S. Smith received her master’s degree in criminal justice from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She
is currently attending law school at the University at Buffalo. Her research involves the impact of body-worn
cameras on local court systems.

Craig D. Uchida, PhD, serves as a Senior Advisor on BWC TTA and is President of Justice & Security Strategies, Inc.
Dr. Uchida has studied policing, collective efficacy, and a variety of criminal justice-related topics during his 30+
years in the field. He is the author of numerous journal articles on policing and criminal justice, is the lead author on
a book on collective efficacy, has co-edited two books, and co-authored a National Academy of Sciences book on
the security of America’s dams. He received his doctorate and master of arts degrees from University at Albany’s
School of Criminal Justice.

Damon Mosler has been a San Diego County Deputy District Attorney for over 24 years and is currently the Chief of
the Economic Crimes Division. He has served as chief of both the narcotics division and special operations, as well
as a law enforcement liaison for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. He has taught on a range of topics
including: case preparation, predator/club drugs, informant handling, Fourth Amendment law, and body-worn
camera concerns. He is also a subject expert and TTA Lead on BWC TTA.


This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-DE-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justiceand Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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