VIDEOS CAN BRING JUSTICE TO COURTS. Jury believes video of DUI driving over testimony of officer

ISSAC J. BAILEY, Digg.com    May 27, 2007
The car was swerving terribly on the highway for miles, the S.C. State Trooper told us during a DUI case on which I was a jury member.
Then the prosecutor popped in the videotape from the trooper’s dashboard camera. The car drifted once to the left, its tires barely hitting the yellow line. We voted for acquittal. Without the videotape, I’m certain we would have voted guilty because we had no reason to disbelieve the trooper’s version of events.
I don’t believe he was being deceitful – he was professional – just that his memory and the videotape recorded different things.
A few years later I sat through the Vartasha McCollough-White trial. She was accused of killing her own daughter.
The circumstantial evidence was abundant, but there was no direct proof of McCollough-White’s guilt. There was compelling testimony from a detective who interrogated McCollough-White late at night without a lawyer. He asked if she killed her daughter. He said she nodded yes.
McCollough-White’s lawyer said the movement the detective took to be a confession was nothing more than a nervous rock. In his closing argument, the prosecutor opened with the strongest line of the trial.
To paraphrase the prosecutor: ‘”Did you kill your daughter, Vartasha,’ the detective asked. And she said yes,” he argued.
Had the interrogation been videotaped, the prosecutor could proved that McCollough-White had confessed. Instead, you had the word of a decorated law enforcement official versus that of a woman accused of killing her own child.
While the jury may have convicted based on other evidence, a videotape would have been an unbiased witness. A quarter of wrongful convictions involve false confessions.
I’ve spoken with court officials, including a judge, who said it makes sense to mandate the videotaping of murder interrogations.
About 20 states are considering joining those who mandate videotaping, according to the Innocence Project. South Carolina should join them as well.
That’s another reason I’ve been calling S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster for the past month. If our state’s top prosecutor asked for more safeguards, his voice would carry more weight than most others.
He got back to me last week. His office said there was a mix-up and that’s why he hadn’t answered my questions. I’m hoping he’ll answer soon and help implement those safeguards.
ONLINE | For past columns and to read Bailey’s blog, go to MyrtleBeachOnline.com.
 

 

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