Court rules police body cams can be used to record statements of domestic violence victims

BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court has ruled that police body cameras can be used to record statements of domestic violence victims and then presented in a court of law.

Thursday’s 30-page Supreme Judicial Court unanimous decision could have an impact on getting justice for victims who don’t show up to testify in future cases.

The ruling stems from a 2019 domestic violence case in Boston.

Police body camera footage of the suspect’s then-girlfriend, describing him forcibly entering her home and assaulting her, was used in court.

The now-former girlfriend of the suspect, Charee Rainey, contacted Boston Police and was voluntarily recorded by an officer’s body camera.

That footage led to a judge finding that Rainey was in violation of his probation, stemming from a previous incident in 2013.

He claimed that an officer unlawfully recorded the statements, pointing to the state’s wiretapping law.

The law prevents audio from secretly being recorded, but the Supreme Judicial Court determined the body camera footage did not violate that law.

“This is a brand new day for victims in Massachusetts,” said victim’s advocate and legal expert Wendy Murphy. “I think there’s no question this decision will save lives.”

Murphy, who runs the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project at New England Law Boston, believes the ruling will help in many cases of victims who don’t show up to testify in court.

“It says for the first time that information that police record on body cams, both video and audio, can be used in court even if the victim doesn’t show up,” she explained.

Murphy said victims are often threatened or intimidated before their cases go to court.

“If the victim feels intimidated and doesn’t show up, the case gets dismissed,” added Murphy. “The message to abusers has been, you can get away with domestic violence in Massachusetts.”

Thursday’s ruling only applies to Massachusetts.

Murphy believes other states who haven’t yet answered this question will likely take notice of the decision.

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