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Transcribing video evidence

Published (2/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Action seen or heard on a tape should be able to speak for itself. But that is not always the case in some Minnesota courts.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park), HF212 would provide that a pretrial filing of a written transcript of a law enforcement vehicle’s audio or video is not a prerequisite for admission of that evidence in a criminal trial or a DWI license revocation hearing.

It was held over Feb. 5 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF333, sponsored by Sen. Leo Foley (DFL-Coon Rapids), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There is no rule of evidence right now that requires a transcript as a condition of admitting a police audio or videotape,” Simon said.

Simon said all state patrol vehicles, and many other police vehicles, have dashboard cameras and there are “tens of thousands of cases” recorded annually. “If every judge were to do this, there would be virtual paralysis in law enforcement of having to produce a transcript each and every time.”

Other problems, Simon said, include transcriber error and inaudible statements made by the accused making it tough to certify the transcript. He also said the tape is the evidence, not the transcript.

“Why would you want to review the script of a movie when you can watch the actual movie?” asked State Patrol Maj. Mike Asleson. He said a videotape starts when the lights go on, and troopers are required to use a handheld audio during a DWI arrest.

Jill Garrison, a Second District Court reporter, said tapes can sometimes include inadmissible evidence, without transcripts jurors may think they heard something different, and the Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court have required transcripts of any audio or video recordings.

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