Generally, on appellate review, a trial court’s factual findings in support of granting or denying a motion to suppress must be upheld when those findings are supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. The issue here, however, concerns the level of deference owed to a trial court’s factual findings based solely on its review of a video recording or documentary evidence. That issue arose in Diaz-Bridges, where the Court expressed its view that a reviewing court need not give deference to another court’s factual findings based solely on a video-recorded interrogation, stating: “When the trial court’s factual findings are based only on its viewing of a recorded interrogation that is equally available to the appellate court and are not dependent on any testimony uniquely available to the trial court, deference to the trial court’s interpretation is not required.
Federal courts and several state courts have adopted a standard of appellate review that requires deference to a trial court’s factual findings when those findings are based on viewing a video-recorded interrogation or search. The policy reasons for a deferential approach are: “The trial judge’s major role is the determination of fact, and with experience in fulfilling that role comes expertise. This reasoning is not persuasive since most appellate judges were first trial court judges.
Duplication of the trial judge’s efforts in the court of appeals would very likely contribute only negligibly to the accuracy of fact determination at a huge cost in diversion of judicial resources. Several United States Courts of Appeals have applied a deferential standard in reviewing factual findings based on video evidence. Several state jurisdictions also utilize a deferential standard in reviewing a trial court’s factual findings based on video evidence. In contrast, many jurisdictions favor a de novo approach. The New Jersey Supreme Court now concludes that a standard of deference to a trial court’s fact findings, even fact findings based solely on video or documentary evidence, best advances the interests of justice in a judicial system that assigns different roles to trial courts and appellate courts.