Houston has a new ordinance requiring bars, nightclubs, “sexually oriented businesses,” gambling businesses, and convenience stores to not only install outdoor security cameras, but to share security camera data with police officers. The cameras must surveil not just the stores, but the surrounding areas as well.
Police officers do not have to obtain a warrant to receive this data. Houston will be requiring camera owners to hand over any requested footage within 72 hours of the request being made.
According to Houston police, these 5 types of businesses represent 50% of the violent crime “hot spots” in the city.
35% of such crimes occur in residences. 20% occur in parking lots and garages.
Houston is the first city to enact this kind of law. While police have taken private citizen camera data as evidence before, the gathering of this data, in the past, has been via either a court order or volunteered by the owners of the cameras.
Businesses are required to pay for 24/7 recording and 30 days of data storage can be fined up to $500 a day. They can also be fined for failing to turn over requested footage. Few businesses will be able to afford to take a stand against this ordinance.
This evidence wouldn’t just be used in cases where crimes are committed directly at the establishment. It could be used to demonstrate that a suspect was at a nearby location when a crime took place. It opens a window for an innocent defendant to be wrongfully convicted for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or for living in an area where a bar or a convenience store happens to be located.
Can this evidence actually be used in your case?
Certainly, as your defense lawyers we’d be making a rigorous argument to have the evidence suppressed. There is a 4th Amendment case to be made here. However, the local law is the local law and the ordinance is too new to have been tested in higher courts. That means there is no guarantee that any defense lawyer would be successful at having video camera evidence thrown out at this time.
You’ll need to rely on your lawyer more than ever to undermine any other evidence a prosecutor might be dealing with in your specific case, so that the data points captured on Houston’s video cameras—which will be ubiquitous given convenience stores are literally everywhere and everyone needs gas—won’t be enough to put you in jail.
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