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If I am driving a car and get into a crash that is 100% my fault can I rip my dash cam down and delete the footage or completely refuse to give the footage to anyone or am I legally required to provide that footage?

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    Many dash cams have automatic overwriting. So if your camera has capacity to store 1 day of footage then it will store 1 day of footage and keep storing more footage by overwriting the old stuff. The effect is that you do not have to take any action to effect erasure. The more interesting question is "what if I do not tell anyone about the footage until after the automatic overwriting has already erased it?"
    – emory
    Oct 11 at 2:51
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    Many dash cams have protected automatic overwriting. If they sense a collision, they flag that segment [& bordering] as not to be deleted.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 11 at 9:02
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    This probably depends on the country as well. But I can imagine in most countries the law doesn't like people to destroy evidence.
    – MC Emperor
    Oct 11 at 9:23
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    @kisspuska: First, the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination applies only to criminal cases. You certainly may be compelled to testify against your own interests in a civil case. (You can take the Fifth in such testimony to avoid saying something that would show you guilty of a crime, e.g. criminal reckless driving, but the court would be allowed to draw adverse inferences from your doing so. advocatemagazine.com/article/2016-october/…) Oct 11 at 12:26
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    Destroying (and actively hiding) evidence is a crime, period. The fact of hiding/destroying the evidence may or may not be discovered, but this is not related to the Q. "Can I rip my dashcam?" No. "Can I delete the footage?" No. Do I have to disclose a previously hidden camera? No, this would be self-incriminating.
    – fraxinus
    Oct 11 at 16:40
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As an example, under the laws of Colorado, USA, deleting the footage would be a crime. See CRS 18-8-610:

A person commits tampering with physical evidence if, believing that an official proceeding is pending or about to be instituted and acting without legal right or authority, he:

(a) Destroys, mutilates, conceals, removes, or alters physical evidence with intent to impair its verity or availability in the pending or prospective official proceeding;  

If you cause a crash, you should certainly believe that you are going to be sued, and a lawsuit is definitely an official proceeding. And it sounds like your purpose in deleting the footage is to prevent it from being used in that lawsuit. So you'd be clearly guilty under this law. It is a class 6 felony, carrying a sentence of 12-18 months in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.

It may be counterintuitive, but according to a law firm, a digital video would be considered physical evidence:

Physical evidence may include electronic records, videos, or audio recordings. This includes emails, text messages, social media messages, image files, video files, and computer files.

If you don't delete the video, it is likely to be demanded by the plaintiff during the discovery process so that it can be entered into evidence. Rule 37 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure lists the sanctions that can be imposed if you refuse, such as:

  • charging you for legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs in trying to obtain it

  • assuming that the video proves whatever the plantiffs say it would show (e.g. that you were speeding, driving recklessly, etc)

  • entering a default judgment against you (the plaintiffs automatically win the suit, as if you had refused to show up in court)

  • holding you in contempt of court, which can lead to you being put in jail until you choose to comply, as well as fined.

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    Would you be forced to mention the dashcam or are you allowed to remain silent on the existence of a dashcam if it is never brought up during discovery?
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 11 at 11:55
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    @NeilMeyer: I don't know for sure. However, people obviously know that dashcams and other video devices are a common thing, so the plaintiff would be foolish not to demand that you disclose the existence of any such recordings and produce them. Oct 11 at 12:15
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    @NateEldredge: I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if you're right, but the law you quote at the beginning of your answer says you're guilty if you destroy evidence while "acting without legal right or authority". So how do we know if a person has the legal right to destroy their own dash cam video?
    – James
    Oct 11 at 13:07
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    @James: It's a fair question. My guess is that there is no such right, and that this clause is meant for situations like having permission from the court to destroy the evidence. But I can't find a source addressing this one way or the other. Oct 11 at 13:31
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    Would this apply to any video of the collision, such as from the dashcam of an uninvolved third party, or from a nearby security camera? I'm imagining the perspective of another driver who witnesses the crash and records it, but just doesn't want to get involved. They have as much idea about a "pending proceeding" as anyone involved in the crash, so it would seem illegal for them to delete the footage as well. Is it illegal to record someone else's crash and just keep on driving, thereby "concealing" evidence with the intent to make it unavailable in any official proceeding? Oct 11 at 15:49
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If things go to court, and the court knows that camera evidence existed, then two things can happen: 1. You may be in trouble for destroying evidence. 2. In a civil court, the judge can and likely will conclude that any evidence that you destroyed or refused to supply would be against you.

Details will be different from country to country.

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IANAL

Under UK law this could be considered Perverting the course of justice, which includes The disposal, or fabricating, of evidence.

There are defenses you can use such as Genuine mistake or error. So you could argue that you went to make a copy of the footage for the Police/Court and deleted it by accident. This of course would need to be argued in court.

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    Im tempted (tongue in cheek of course) to add, "There are defenses you can use such as Genuine mistake or error, or being a member of HM government and finding a permanent email record under your non-personal official email address inconvenient".........
    – Stilez
    Oct 12 at 13:32
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IANAL but I recommend setting a retention policy. Hopefully your dash cam will allow you to set a policy that it can implement automatigically. What you need specifically is that all footage will be erased after some time without any action on your part - unless you take action to preserve it.

For example, let us assume that footage shows Delinquent Dan pounding down some beers while driving. Then Dan crashes. Dan is in very bad shape. Dan can not control the dash cam anymore. The footage shows the police arriving. The footage shows an ambulance taking Dan away. The footage shows a tow truck hauling Dan's car to an impound lot.

The camera is still following retention policy and (according to policy) a week later has deleted all this footage and replaced it with footage of the impound lot. Dan knows he messed up big time and has kept his mouth shut.

The police want that footage and the camera is in their physical possession. Do they need a warrant to get it? (I don't know.) Will they try to take it before the week is up? (I don't know.) Do they know they have a week deadline to get it? (No, they don't.)

The downside of this is if one is not at fault and the footage would exonerate one then one must take action or else one loses one's footage. For example, what if Dan had not been drinking and the crash was totally not Dan's fault but Dan is at the hospital and Dan's car is in the impound lot. How would Dan stop the retention policy from destroying exonerating evidence?

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    I wonder how this plays out for a civil case if you are served with a preservation order. I'd think this could require you to take action to stop the recording from being automatically deleted. Oct 11 at 12:19
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    From the above source that "Another event triggering this duty to preserver occurs when you reasonably anticipate litigation. When can you reasonably anticipate litigation? There are many situations which trigger reasonable anticipation of litigation; however, when a person files a complaint, or tells you or writes you about suing you or seeing you in court, your duty to preserve may have been triggered. When your I-am-about-to-be-sued-sense starts tingling [...] you should immediately stop any normal document disposal procedures immediately to prevent accusations of spoliation of evidence." Oct 11 at 13:08
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    A week is probably too long. But I guess if you set it to 1 hour it could work because I assume the shock of a crash or the medical treatment you could be expected to get after any serious crash would take longer than an hour and your legal right to get medical treatment would probably be more important than any duty of preservation of evidence. But of course then the utility of the dash cam in case it would provide evidence to your benefit would also decrease.
    – Nobody
    Oct 11 at 17:35
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    This question gets much more interesting if you have cryptographic (and possibly also steganographic, i.e. not exposing whether the camera was recording or not at the time of the event) storage and refuse to divulge the key or claim not to have the key or that it wasn't recording. Commercially available dash cams do not have such features but it would be a prudent way to design a DIY one. Oct 11 at 18:27
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    @R..GitHubSTOPHELPINGICE That is technologically interesting, but I doubt it is legally interesting. A court could order you to share the key. Your camera could encrypt the footage with multiple keys and auto-delete the old keys but I do not see how that is fundamentally different than auto-deleting the footage itself.
    – emory
    Oct 12 at 11:54

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