Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trusting Video Evidence in Courtroom Proceedings

I was remembering an old saying from Benjamin Franklin recently that I had first heard several years ago - believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. Franklin was merely trying to have us think for ourselves, trust our own judgments and not the judgments of others in forming opinions and taking actions.

Interestingly enough, this very quote came to mind after reading the cover story in the May-June 2010 issue of Evidence Technology about the use of video technology and the field of forensic video analysis. Putting aside the author's obvious aim to put his business in a better light, the question he poses is still a valid one - can video evidence be trusted?

First, video evidence may be used as primary evidence, but secondary evidence must also be gathered to strengthen a case against a perpetrator. Witness statements and scientific forensic evidence are just as important as video evidence in the accuracy of convictions. Reliance solely on video evidence is bad practice. Ultimately, it is merely one tool in law enforcement's arsenal and should be treated as such.

The author's anecdotes that seem to increase the need for specialized video analysts are inconsistent with current technology available to first responders. CCTV and time lapse photography are no longer the only tools that are available to law enforcement personnel investigating crimes, or perhaps even while those crimes are occurring. Technology has progressed to the point that police officers may obtain video and audio evidence that may not be tampered with or destroyed, includes GPS information stamp and a time and date stamp while the evidence is being collected. Analyzing video evidence is made much easier if judges and juries may review this type of evidence knowing that the evidence can't be lost or altered. Truly seeing is believing. There would be no need for experts in forensic video analysis with widespread use of this new technology. And the answer to the question posed above, while it remains just a piece of the puzzle, would be yes, video evidence may be trusted.

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