For those who have been pushing to have mandatory dashboard cameras installed on all New Jersey police vehicles, this past Wednesday is a red letter day. The new legislation, signed into law by Governor Christy, now requires every municipal police car used for DWI duty in the Garden State to have a working dash cam (or, alternately, a body cam worn by the officer) was inspired by a case involving the false arrest of NJ Assemblyman Paul Moriarty for drunken driving two years ago.
As some may recall, Assemblyman Moriarty was arrested on July 31, 2012, in Washington Twp. where he was erroneously charged with DWI. But from the get-go, Moriarty, who was previously the mayor of that municipality, disputed the charges and the arresting officer’s contention that the assemblyman was intoxicated at the time of the police stop. According to subsequent news reports, the officer contended that Moriarty’s vehicle cut off the officer’s patrol car and failed to maintain its lane, resulting in the traffic stop.
Despite the officer’s claims that Moriarty had the smell of alcohol on his breath, Moriarty said he was completely sober at the time of the stop and had consumed no alcohol prior to arrest. Alleging harassment and misconduct on the officer’s part, Moriarty used the video evidence recorded by the officer’s in-car video camera to bolster his case. The recording of Moriarty’s arrest showed clearly a number of discrepancies between the arresting officer’s pursuit of Moriarty and what the patrolman later documented in subsequent police reports about the incident.
In the end, Moriarty won his DWI case and stated that he believed every patrol car in New Jersey should have a working video camera. Moriarty believed this was important, since only nine police vehicles out of the township’s fleet of 50 were equipped with cameras. Eventually the state charged the arresting officer with 14 criminal charges including official misconduct, falsifying a police report and harassment.
Now, as Assemblyman Moriarty had intended, the dash cam bill has finally been signed into law. The new legislation will require all new municipal patrol cars — purchased new or leased — to be equipped with dash-mounted video cameras. This applies only to those vehicles that are primarily used in traffic stops. As an optional approach, depending on police department budgets, the law allows body cameras for officers as a more affordable alternative to in-car video equipment. To fund the new equipment statewide, a $25 surcharge on every drunken driving conviction was also provided for through the new legislation.
Interestingly, the legislation was approved by both the state Assembly and the state Senate during the last legislative session; however, Governor Christy pocket-vetoed the bill after stating that he would neither sign nor veto the legislation. As a result, Moriarty reintroduced the bill this past spring, which was subsequently approved by the Assembly last May, and by the Senate in June.
With the bill now officially law, we can say that this is a relative win for all those who may be accused of DWI in the future. As most everyone knows, with the advent of small video recording technology, not much gets past the public’s eye anymore. YouTube and Twitter have both shown, video footage has the power to back up one’s claims when no other witnesses are available or willing to come forward. Even the police can take solace in the new law, as some good officers have been wrongly accused of impropriety in the past.
Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s police camera bill signed into law, NJ.com, September 10, 2014