In the United States you have the right to see any and all evidence the state has against you. This is one of the foundations of Due Process, right up there with the right to an attorney. This is taken incredibly seriously, as any withholding of evidence by the prosecution is an incredibly serious charge. They’re going to give it all to you, including any evidence that supports your innocence (spoiler alert: 99.9999% of times there isn’t any).
I went through the discovery process because I thought there was a chance that my stop was illegal based on what the cop said to me at the time of arrest (that I was weaving within
my lane, not outside of it). Usually your lawyer or public defender will show up at your first hearing and meet with the prosecutor, who will usually try to offer a plea bargain just to move the process along quicker and cheaper for everybody. At this point you can take the plea, or move into discovery. There’s always the vague threat that if you go to discovery that your current minimalistic plea bargain could be rescinded and a more harsh one be offered afterwards as some sort of “punishment” for using more of the court’s time. In the vast majority of cases this will not happen (I can make no promises for every single one, of course), and it didn’t happen in mine.
Should you decide to go further your lawyer will file for requests of the police report, the video from the traffic stop, and any other evidence the state has against you. Doing this will not add to your court fees, nor should it cost you more money with your lawyer if you have them on retainer. Getting these materials will take some time and most likely you’ll have a court date moved because of this. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The waiting time for these materials to be produced is a really odd one. You’re going to turn over every single scenario in your head - did this happen? did that happen? I swear I didn’t do x… but what if video shows I did? You can’t really judge your actions that much - at this point it’s a few months after your arrest, and you were at least somewhat intoxicated. Nor can you judge what your actions look like to somebody else. It’s all a mystery, one you will try to solve over and over again, but get no closer.
After some time your lawyer will receive the documents in question and call you in. There’s a certain level of anxiety involved in knowing that you’re going to watch the footage of you getting arrested. My stomach was turning, I didn’t want to see it, I couldn’t see it, I had to see it. I think I ended up buying a mini-bottle from a nearby liquor store just to settle my nerves before walking in the door to my lawyer’s office.
The various law enforcement agencies across the nation all use different formats for their video. Get arrested in some places, you get to watch yourself in crystal clear full-color HD. Some places you get a blurry, vague SD picture that looks like it came out of an old 7-Eleven security cam. Some will deliver the videos digitally, some on DVD, and some in weird proprietary formats that your lawyer may have a difficult time opening up on their PC. There’s no real standard. Some will allow you to jump around in the video, some only let you restart it. None of it makes the process easier.
Watching the video of my arrest wasn’t easy… but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Your brain switches to analytical mode, looking for that sliver of hope, that off-chance that something on this tape disqualifies everything… but you’re probably not likely to find it. I didn’t.
My tire had crossed one of the lines, I was done. My weaving wasn’t too bad actually, but I had crossed the line and that was enough to get me. It’s important to know that a cop can pretty much pull you over, they have enough byzantine laws and regulations to make sure they can find some reason to pull you over if they want to. It didn’t help me when my lawyer confirmed that they had enough to perform a legal stop on me and added, “Y’know, I watch these all the time, and it mostly comes down to luck.”
Mine had run out.
I could have continued to fight it if I wanted, but, there wasn’t much to fight.
It was time for a plea bargain