New Jersey Law Requiring Police to Use Dashboard Cameras Remains Unfunded

Coffee BeansIn 2014, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill, A2280, mandating dashboard video cameras for all new police vehicles used in traffic enforcement. The Governor signed the bill into law in September of that year, but as of mid-2016, the widespread use of dashboard cameras is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon. Dashboard camera evidence can be crucial for defendants charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) and other traffic offenses. The fate of the new law, however, comes down to money. A2280 provided funding for the mandate by increasing the $100 surcharge imposed in DWI cases by $25. After a New Jersey township complained that the additional surcharge was insufficient to cover the cost of the cameras, a governmental body known as the Council on Local Mandates (CLM) ruled that A2280 is an “unfunded mandate,” and therefore it is in violation of the New Jersey Constitution. The ruling also invalidated the increased surcharge imposed by A2280. The CLM left open the possibility of reviving the bill, most likely through new legislation.

Under New Jersey’s DWI statute, prosecutors can prove that a defendant was intoxicated or impaired in multiple ways. A blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher creates a presumption of intoxication, but even without this kind of evidence, a police officer can testify about their observations of the defendant. They frequently testify about a defendant’s appearance, stating that they looked “glassy-eyed” or “flushed,” their behavior, and their performance on field sobriety tests. This type of evidence essentially asks municipal court judges to decide who is more credible between a police officer and a DWI suspect. Video evidence of a traffic stop, while not always helpful to the defense, can directly contradict an officer’s testimony about a defendant or even challenge the justification for the traffic stop itself.

The original sponsor of A2280 was motivated by his own experience with a traffic stop that led to charges of DWI and refusal to submit to breath testing. Video footage from a dashboard camera in the officer’s patrol car differed significantly from the officer’s description of what occurred during the stop. The charges were dismissed, and the officer eventually faced criminal charges, including perjury. A2280 requires municipal police departments to equip all newly acquired vehicles that are “primarily used for traffic stops” with dashboard cameras. It adds an additional $25 to the DWI surcharge to fund the acquisition of the cameras.

The Township of Deptford filed a complaint against A2280 with the CLM. A 1995 amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, known as the State Mandate / State Pay Amendment, established a requirement of adequate funding for any law imposing a mandate on municipal and other local governments, and it created the CLM to enforce this requirement. Deptford presented evidence to the CLM that the additional DWI surcharge would yield approximately $2,250 in annual revenue for the township, while a five-year estimate of the cost of the cameras averaged over $50,000 per year. The CLM ruled A2280’s mandate unconstitutional, noting that this also rendered the $25 DWI surcharge increase “nugatory.” It stated that the Legislature should provide “a showing as to the sufficiency of the authorized funding” for any future bill.

If you have been charged with alleged DWI in a New Jersey court, you should seek the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney. Evan Levow can help you understand your legal rights and guide you through the court process. Contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Dashcam Videos from New Jersey Police Vehicles Are Public Record, According to Appellate Division Ruling, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 20, 2016

Court Ruling May Make Footage of Traffic Stops Available Earlier in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 28, 2014

New Jersey Law Enforcement Patrol Vehicles Required to Have Video Cameras Under New Law, Funds to Come from New DWI Surcharges, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 1, 2014

Photo credit: “Coffee Beans” [Public domain], via PublicDomainPictures.