What are Police MVARS?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Dec 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

police dash cam
MVARS are often referred to as “dash cams.”

MVARS stands for Mobile Video/Audio Recording Systems. These devices are dashboard-mounted cameras used in some California law enforcement vehicles to record arrests, and events leading up to arrests. MVARS are also often referred to as “dash cams.”

A few of the things a dash cam can record include:

  • conversations between police and suspects prior to and during arrests,
  • field sobriety tests, and
  • a motorist's driving patterns before being pulled over by authorities.

Mobile Video/Audio Recording Systems are typically admissible in criminal proceedings. Further, they can be both helpful and hurtful to a defendant's case - depending on the circumstances.

Persons accused of a crime have a legal right to view the footage from a dash cam, provided that one was used.

What are MVARS and how do they work?

As the term implies, dash cams are mounted to the dashboards of “certain” police cars. We use the word “certain” because the use of these cameras is not required by law. While some police departments like them, others do not and will not use them.

The camera itself faces forward at all times and it is continuously on. MVARS save a video as soon as an officer turns on his vehicle's emergency lights. A police officer is not allowed to turn off a dash cam.

There are several reasons why these devices are used. Some of the top four include:

  1. they place more accountability and transparency on authorities when arresting a suspect;
  2. the devices can record conversations between police and suspects prior to an arrest;
  3. they are helpful in DUI cases, especially in the context of field sobriety tests; and,
  4. MVARS capture evidence of a motorist's driving patterns before being pulled over.

Do dash cams help a defendant's case?

The answer depends on the type of case and the facts involved. MVARS can help a defendant's case in the following situations:

  • if there are questions on critical facts, camera recordings can capture facts or events that authorities deny;
  • in cases of DUI, a video of a field sobriety test may portray a defendant as sober; and,
  • if an accused was not treated properly upon an arrest, a dash cam recording may capture an officer violating a defendant's personal rights.

Can dash cams hurt a defendant's case?

Once again, this answer depends on the type of case and the facts involved. Some examples of when a MVARS video may hurt a defendant's case include the following circumstances:

  • a defendant says he was sober, but field sobriety tests obviously show he was driving under the influence;
  • an accused wants to show that a police officer violated certain Constitutional rights post stop, but a dash cam shows that all rights were complied with; and,
  • a MVARS video captures a conversation between accused and police showing that the accused was unruly and uncooperative.

Can an accused see a MVARS video?

California law says that persons accused of a crime can obtain the footage of a dash cam video – if such video or audio was recoded. Typically, a defendant's lawyer requests the footage from the arresting department or agency. These entities normally supply a copy of the video/audio and keep the original.

Please note that prosecutors have the right to use MVARS videos as evidence in criminal cases. This means that if a video or audio recording makes an accused look bad, a defendant should anticipate that a prosecutor will use the recording against him.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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