Wisconsin Appeals Court Clarifies Dashcam Evidence Rules

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
wisconsin appeals court clarifies dashcam evidence rules

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Wednesday gave its first ruling on how dashcam evidence would be treated at the appellate level. A three-judge panel decided that the proper legal standard when evaluating a video is to overturn a trial judge’s decision only it is “clearly erroneous.”

The context was provided by the November 4, 2009 arrest of Jeffrey D. Walli in Sheboygan. The court was asked to determine whether Sheboygan Police Officer Brandon Munnik had a valid reason for pulling Walli over in the first place. Munnik claimed that around 11:22pm Walli’s car nearly sideswiped him, so he flipped on his emergency lights, which triggered his dashboard-mounted video camera, and gave chase. Munnik testified that the resulting video showed Walli’s car over the center line and was a legitimate traffic violation. Walli’s attorney disagreed with that take.

“I think [the video] shows two vehicles coming toward each other, um, both on their side of the center line, they’re both close to the center line, and that there is no showing of Mr. Walli’s vehicle crossing the center line,” the lawyer argued.

The video showed the police car took no evasive action, but a judge did not buy the defense counsel’s argument.

“I believe at this point that the officer did see the vehicle cross the centerline, and that that’s a violation of the motor vehicle code, and would give reasonable suspicion to stop, so the court would deny the motion [to suppress the evidence],” Sheboygan County Judge Timothy M. Van Akkeren ruled.

The appeals court was asked to review the decision and determine whether based on the facts at hand the officer had reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed. The panel decided it should assume the trial judge has a better handle on the facts of the case.

“With the near ubiquitousness of squad car video cameras, surveillance cameras and traffic cameras, appellate courts will be deciding more and more cases where some of the evidence is preserved on recordings,” Anderson wrote. “Where the underlying facts are in dispute, the trial court resolves that dispute by exercising its fact-finding function, and its findings are subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review.”

In other states, appellate courts have adopted a “de novo” form of review of video evidence that does not give the trial judge’s impression any extra weight. The Wisconsin judges were not persuaded by this approach.

“Here, the trial court’s ruling involved not simply the review of the video, the court also evaluated the credibility of the officer and weighed all of the evidence,” Anderson wrote. “In conference, we viewed the video recording from Munnik’s squad car and conclude that the trial court’s finding that Walli crossed the center line is not clearly erroneous.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.

Wisconsin v. Walli (Court of Appeals, State of Wisconsin, 5/11/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

Join the conversation
  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on May 16, 2011

    This looks like a pretty standard appellate decision on a factual issue. Appellate courts do not get in the business of re-weighing the evidence considered by a trial court, whether a judge or a jury. Assuming there's some evidence that supports the lower court's decision, that's the end of it, as far as the appeal is concerned. The officer's testimony was evidence. To the extent that the video impeached the officer's testimony (i.e. didn't show the defendant's car crossing the center line), the usual and typical function of any trial court is to resolve those conflicts. The basic principle at work here is not some sort of bias, but simply the fact that justice is slow and expensive enough without re-trying cases on appeal. Appeals are about (1) was the law correctly applied to the facts, (2) was evidence properly admitted or excluded from consideration and (3) is there some evidence that supports the factual determination of the trial court.

  • PeriSoft PeriSoft on May 16, 2011

    See, what happens is, if the defendant's attorney questions the judge's decision, he can request that the instant replay be used. However, if the judge determines that the dashcam didn't show him to be 'clearly erroneous' then the defense loses a time out and play is resumed.

  • Dukeisduke I'm not convinced that the "software update" installed by Hyundai/Kia dealers on later cars without an immobilizer (like my middle daughter's 2014 Kia Forte sedan) actually does anything. I'm able to lock the car with the remote, which is supposed to disable the ignition, then reach in through an open driver's window, insert the key, and start the car. That shouldn't happen.I opened a case with Kia corporate two weeks ago and haven't gotten a response.
  • Wjtinfwb I see all three backing away quietly and slowly. Between political winds and corporate green mandates plus the previously mentioned mandates, automakers will have to thread a needle between public demand and acceptance, and the extremely loud voices of the minority screaming for fossil fuels to be abandoned by 2030, which of course won't happen. Ford jumped in early with the Lightning and Mach-E, but since has tempered their enthusiasm and probably spent less money as the Lightning shares a lot with the gas F-150. GM however has built some bespoke platforms out on the edge that will end up being a gigantic waste of money. The Hummer EV is a joke and the new Silverado EV while impressive is both expensive and less practical than an electric version of the current gas Silverado could have been. The Cadillac EVs are the dumbest move yet, especially their upcoming 400k model. Ford seems to have a leg up on GM in Hybrid which would seem like a better interim measure, I'd be surprised if a Hybrid Explorer isn't in the works and could see a Gas/Electric Expedition and Super Duty being successful as well. US energy policy and gas prices into the next administration will play a significant role in consumer demand, if prices stay high and supplies artificially constrained, demand will increase for more efficient cars and trucks. If we go back to a self-sufficient energy policy and prices drop, demand for Hybrid's and EVs will moderate even more.
  • Wjtinfwb Poor cousin to the Blazer & Bronco that dominated this segment. The 1st Gen Ramcharger was a much better and better looking truck, with the 440 available and without the AMC Pacer style real windows. The Bronco and Blazer felt and looked much more modern and cohesive than the Mopar's, and that's not saying very much. Probably attractive to the Mopar faithful but for the rest of us... No thanks at any price.
  • Not Ford will have a great reckoning with its EV production goals. Their EVs haven’t been as popular as initially anticipated and have been dealing quality issues (persistent recalls on Mach E) or disappointing performance (cold weather and towing greatly diminishing range on Lightning).Their top selling vehicle remains the ICE powered F-series. Consumers will only tolerate so much price increase as Ford tries to subsidize the massive losses it incurs with EV production. Being forced to eat profit off of 2-3 ICE F-series to offset losses from a single Lightning will quickly prove to be unsustainable business. This is the very same company that abandoned cars entirely to focus on more profitable trucks.
  • LYNN DELANEY Mine is a 2001 Pure White Miata. I bought it at Concord Mazda. I love it but Imay be about to get rid of it I guess. It's been in my garage for quite awhile. Why? 1. I don't have a lot of money (I'm a retired teacher) And I've had issues with it that require financing. For example when you insert the key and turn it nothing happens. Why? I got it at Concord Mazda and somehow. it came to my condo shared garage to die and has remained such to this day. If you want to experience it you put the key in the keyhole and turn it but silence ensues and you wonder why but you know it's because the key was "programmed and it worked when you brought it home but not since.I'm told it requires a new battery but I've not had the financial energy to deal with it. I love my Miata but will I keep it? I'm unsure. Next step? Install a new battery...When it came home from Concord Mazda it was perfect for a quick minute. I tested it. I drove it around my block in Oakland, California just one time. That was the end of it. Since them I'm told it needs a new battery. It's a 2001. Shall I go ahead and splurge?