Video surveillance sounds like a trump card played by either side to prove guilt or sway a jury as to reasonable. How can anyone possibly contest their actions caught on tape? It's irrefutable with no room for arguing, right? Criminal defense lawyers realize that video footage is just as fallible as witnesses to a crime when it comes to painting the facts accurately. In the case of Philadelphia police lieutenant Jonathan Josey, video surveillance showed him in uniform clearly striking a woman at a Peurto Rican Day celebration in the city and taking her limp body into custody. Josey was fired for his actions, but a year later he has his job back -- with back pay and full benefits -- after an arbitrator's ruling. How did he overcome video evidence against him?
New York criminal attorney Dietrich Epperson weighs in.
Video is a Small Window of Time
Footage taken from a store camera or a cell phone is a small portion of an entire incident. In many instances, we don't see the actions leading up to the event that's led to criminal charges -- just the deed itself. What this does is remove context from the scene playing out on the screen. We don't know if Josey was attempting to subdue a suspect after committing an offense, or (as he claimed) trying to remove a liquid-carrying cup from the woman's hand after allegedly spraying its contents on authorities. We don't know. Video can generate more questions than answers, and finding those answers may require relying on eye witness testimony, which any lawyer will tell you is one of the most fallible things around.
Treating the Acquitted as the Innocent
A bench trial acquitted Josey of assault earlier in the year. The ruling meant, in the eyes of the law, he carried no burden of criminal wrongdoing in the matter. If he's not guilty of assault, then he can't be barred from returning to his job -- Lieutenant Josey is an innocent man. It's refreshing to see the system treating a man who obtained an acquittal of the charges against him with all the rights of someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime. Does that always happen? No. It's telling that Lieutenant Josey needed to take his case before an arbitrator before he could get his job back. Does that have anything to do with the $75,000 settlement the alleged victim in the incident, 39-year-old Aida Guzman, recovered from the Philadelphia Police Department? Hard to say.
What is clear is that a YouTube video isn't the smoking gun type of evidence that prosecutors may believe it to be. Bringing criminal charges against a man attempting to protect the public interest just to satisfy cries for justice from the Internet isn't wise. It would seem the only person put through a great ordeal is Josey, a veteran police officer with a long history of serving the area.
If you, or someone close to you, is dealing with criminal charges, you need the services of our experienced defense lawyers. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your state. Most criminal defense attorneys offer free initial consultations.