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Four Tips on Hiring a Video Forensic Expert

Friday, November 4th, 2011

All video forensics experts are not created equal. However, more often than not, lawyers and private individuals shop for video experts by cost instead of by these four simple expert criteria. I have successfully completed cases where the opposing side in the litigation had their forensic expert removed from the trial because of mistakes or lack of credentials. In fact, I have experienced video editors attempt to classify themselves as video forensic experts in serious litigation only to let their clients down.

In addition, these video editors cast a shadow on the science of video forensics, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the legal community. This observation has motivated me to publish this article on the four tips of hiring a video forensic expert.

1. Make sure you need a video forensic expert (VCE) before retaining one. Many times the video evidence being submitted in litigation is good as a standalone exhibit and a video forensic expert is not needed. It is mostly the defense that is guilty of wasting money and complicating a case. Only hire a video expert if you believe that the video being used in your case may be altered or may not represent the facts as they occurred. The other way an expert can help is by authenticating the video if you feel it has been tampered with or has portions that were eliminated.

I was a forensic expert on a case where the defense believed the police had altered a video when in fact they did not. Think about it. Why would a police officer risk his entire career altering video evidence? An experienced forensic expert can tell if the video was altered no matter how well the perpetrator may have covered their tracks.

2. Look at the experience of successful cases completed for the forensic expert. How many times has the video expert testified at trial? What types of courts has the video forensic expert testified in? How many articles have they published in the forensic community? Are their methods accepted in the scientific community? Look at the broad scope of their experience and consider how your case fits into their experience.

3. How well do they communicate with you before you retain their expertise? If your personalities do not connect before you begin the investigation, it will only get worse. A good forensic expert will go above and beyond during the course of their service. You can expect to receive their CV (curriculum vita) before you retain them as well as have a pro bono conference call to discuss your case. Determine how they answer your questions on the phone and use that conversation to determine how they will be testifying. Do they communicate well or do they stumble on words and terms?

VFE’s should also be able to explain in plain English how your video evidence is relevant in your litigation. Judges and juries need video evidence simplified, not complicated. A good expert witness will be able to communicate clearly in 6th grade English the relevance of your video evidence.

4. Cost should always be an issue but never the deciding factor. A good expert witness is worth their weight in gold. Plus, those experts who are experienced will get more done in less time. They will also have integrity. That integrity will earn your trust faster than the depth of their experience.

Integrity is the ability to trust an expert witness and know they will be fair with their fee. If you ever feel a lack of trust, fire your expert and demand a refund. As a VFE, I always go above and beyond the call of duty. For me it’s not all about the money. It’s about reputation and integrity which hold up well over time. The cost you should expect to pay a video forensic expert is directly proportionate to their experience.

If any of these four tips seem out of place with an experience you have had or if video evidence was used in your litigation, I would like to hear from you. I learn from my clients as much as I help them. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

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