Relying on video evidence that contradicts trial court is not ‘reweighing,’ justices rule

May 11, 2017

An appellate court’s decision to rely on video evidence to reverse a trial court’s findings does not constitute impermissible reweighing of the evidence if the video indisputably contradicts the trial court, the Indiana Supreme Court held Thursday while simultaneously affirming a man’s resisting law enforcement and battery against a law enforcement animal convictions.

When South Bend police officers observed a van driven by Royce Love drive through a red light and then disregard a stop sign, they initiated a traffic stop. Love, however, did not stop, so a chase ensued and Love was initially stopped in an alley with the use of police spikes or stop sticks.

When Love exited the vehicle, he was ordered to the ground, so he raised his hands and got down on all fours. He eventually laid face down, and officers used Tasers and a police dog to arrest him. When the dog bit Love’s arm, officers testified he struck and squeezed the animal, causing it to yelp. Police also observed a bite ring on the dog’s head.

Love was charged with two counts of resisting law enforcement, one as a Class D felony and one as a Class A misdemeanor, and battery to a law enforcement animal as a Class A misdemeanor. During his trial, several police officers testified that Love did not comply with their commands when he exited his vehicle, forcing them to deploy the Tasers and dog.

Love, however, testified that an officer approached his vehicle and told him to “get the F out of the car,” so he got out and laid face down. He also testified the officers used Tasers and kicked him and deployed the dog who bit him, so he was only trying to protect himself from the animal.

Further, Love introduced a DVD recording from an officer’s in-car camera, showing the scene in the alley. It was admitted without objection and played for the jury, which found Love guilty as charged. But on appeal, a divided Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his convictions, finding that appellate courts must “give almost total deference to the trial court’s factual determinations unless the video recording indisputably contradicts the trial court’s findings.”

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and heard arguments in Love’s case in January. In a Thursday opinion, they unanimously affirmed Love’s convictions. Justice Steven David wrote resolution of the case turned on interpretation of the video evidence, which Love argued showed him cooperating with police.

Drawing on precedent from Robinson v. State, 5 N.E.3d 362 (Ind. 2014), David said the court declined to adopt a de novo standard of review for video evidence and noted that “while technology marches on, the appellate standard of review remains constant.” However, Robinson did not address when review of video evidence becomes impermissible reweighing, David said, so the court held in Love’s case that “it is appropriate that there be a narrow failsafe built into our standard of review for video evidence.”

That “failsafe,” David wrote, is a rule that “where the video evidence indisputably contradicts the trial court’s findings, relying on such evidence and reversing the trial court’s findings do not constitute reweighing.”

“To be clear, in order that the video evidence indisputably contradict the trial court’s findings, it must be such that no reasonable person could view the video and conclude otherwise,” David wrote. “When determining whether the video evidence is indisputable, a court should assess the video quality including whether the video is grainy or otherwise obscured, the lighting, the angle, the audio and whether the video is a complete depiction of the events at issue, among other things.”

In Love’s case, however, the video evidence does not indisputably contradict the trial court’s findings, nor does it show what happened with the Taser or police dog, David said. Thus, the high court deferred to the trial court and affirmed Love’s convictions.

The case is Royce Love v. The State of Indiana, 71S03-1612-CR-641.


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