Patrick M. Luchtefeld is not exactly a model citizen: He has two felony convictions and cannot drive because his license was taken for failing to pay child support.
All of which we know because he is a model of what police should expect from suspects and their attorneys in this age of ever-present video. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained the Highland Police car dash cam video from his arrest Sept. 25. It allowed him to beat a misdemeanor marijuana charge last week in Madison County Circuit Court.
Prosecutors didn’t turn over the video to the defense because they didn’t know it existed. There was testimony that the dash cam might have malfunctioned. We’re not sure whether Highland cops gave Luchtefeld their only copy, whether the footage was deleted or whether someone was trying to hide something. We have no reason to believe there was ill intent, but we simply don’t know the story behind the video foul-up.
Neither did the judge after Luchtefeld showed there was, in fact, a video of the arrest. A law professor said the judge could have ruled either way, but may have been sending the cops a message about their responsibilities as caretakers of evidence — in this case the dash cam footage. The professor also warned that keeping all that video from all those minor traffic encounters could be a burden for local law enforcement.
Yup. It likely will be.
But this case is a good cautionary tale for our local police. With the push for body cams and expectation that suspect interrogations be video taped, they’d better get adept at cataloging and keeping video.
It might get expensive, but balance the cost of some multi-terabyte hard drives against the cost in police and prosecutor time spent on this or other failed charges.