As police officers across the country push back against the idea that body cameras might help hold them and the citizens they interact with accountable for their actions, one department has bravely stood up in support of the devices. As long as it means they get to secretly tape defense lawyers before trial.
In Miami Beach, public defenders are angry that a cop surreptitiously recorded an informal interview with a defense attorney, who was questioning him about the particulars of a case in which he was serving as a witness before trial. And the cops are angry that they’ve been asked to stop recording lawyers in courtroom hallways.
The situation has also led to a strange reversal. The local police union, which claimed at the outset of Miami Beach’s body camera program that the devices were too unwieldy and slow to be used safely and effectively, is now arguing in favor of them—at least in the specific case of recording attorneys when it might be helpful to the cops. And defense lawyers, who you’d ordinarily expect to be pro-body camera, are up in arms about it.
But the real issue, it turns out, isn’t body cameras at all—it’s a quirk of the Miami-Dade legal system. In misdemeanor cases, attorneys are not allowed to give formal deposition interviews with witnesses, and often resort to informal “hallway depositions” before trial. Attorneys don’t like the practice because they feel like they’re going to trial blind and unable to adequately defend their clients; cops don’t like it because they feel like the informal, undocumented nature of the interviews allows lawyers to twist their words in the courtroom (hence the secret body camera recording).
Seems like there’s an easy solution to all of this: Start allowing depositions for misdemeanor cases. But the cops aren’t having it. “For these misdemeanor cases, both the State Attorney’s Office and the Department want to avoid a continuance and avoid formal depositions,” Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates tells the Miami Herald. “This is because any postponement of a misdemeanor trial almost always favors the defendant and increases the likelihood that the case will be dismissed.”