Video evidence can be an extremely valuable tool when used properly in court. Through our experience helping clients find, enhance, and present both audio and video evidence, we’ve seen a few issues with one side mishandling audio or video evidence. You will see in the following case how mishandling video evidence affected a case.
This case involves defendant James Franqueira, a 32-year-old Vermont resident. Prior to exiting a taxi at the fast food chain Popeye’s in New York last October, Franqueira refused to pay his fare and pulled a gun on the driver. He fled on foot and attempted to fight an officer. Franqueira was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and two counts of menacing.
This should have been a clear-cut case for the District Attorney. There were witnesses, including the cabbie, and the loaded gun was found on scene. A jury was selected and the case was brought to trial this March.
March 4th – day of the trial. It was revealed that there was video surveillance evidence held by police detectives that was not brought in as discovery. Franqueira was awarded a mistrial.
Earlier that morning an investigator from the DA’s office went to recover crime scene photos from the police department, and the investigator came across the surveillance video file. That was the first time they were aware such a video existed – captured by a nearby Valvoline Instant Oil Change security camera.
“The contents of my case file did not get turned over to the DA,” said Det. Ronald Epstein, the lead detective on the investigation. The District Attorney, Richard McNally, added that there was no video listed in the evidence log.
The addition of evidence, a new jury, and extra time to prepare is an expensive error that could change the outcome of any case. When public defenders have a full plate and initiative is not taken to get evidence to the district attorney, things get lost. By going to the corporate office of the gas station where video cameras were present, the Assistant DA, Shane Hug, probably thought he was covering all his bases. However, he was told that all video evidence had been deleted (which is all too common). Little did he know, the evidence was sitting on Epstein’s desk.
In the end, the video surveillance evidence from Vasoline actually hurts Franqueira’s case. But in the meantime, the mistrial means the trial process must start again.
I would expect the DA’s office in this story will have a little better communication with the police in upcoming cases.