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Posts Tagged ‘Expert Witness’

What Makes a Great Expert Witness?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

expert-witness-1024x685 What Makes a Great Expert Witness?For many years I have been working on, investigating and testifying in video forensic cases around the world. As a result, I’ve come up with a list of qualities that I believe all great expert witnesses must possess.

Obviously, a great expert must be an expert or have a lot of experience in their area of expertise. My career in video started back in high school when I was selected by the TV department to be the custodian, if you will, of all of the television systems within our high school. And back then half-inch recording tape was on an open reel – they hadn’t even invented VHS cassette tapes yet. That tells you how long ago that was!

The second quality that a great expert witness must possess is character. If you have the right character and the right personality, then you will always be respected and trusted by litigators, judges and juries. I believe integrity is one of the most important qualities that any successful expert witness should possess because it’s that character that earns you respect as an expert witness.

The next quality that I believe an expert witness should have is confidence. When you get on the stand to testify, the first litigator that starts to ask questions is usually the person that you’re working for, so you go right down the line of your expertise to be entered as an expert witness into that litigation, in that court and qualified as an expert witness. Then you answer the questions of what you were asked to do, what you did, how you did it and the types of things that are accepted in the scientific community to help qualify your opinion. Then, of course, you end with your opinion. Then the opposing counsel gets up and starts to cross-examine. That’s when your confidence really needs to shine because that opposing counsel will do the best that they can to create doubt about your qualifications as an expert and to make you look less confident. Sometimes that nervous energy that you can feel during that cross examination can help break down your confidence, and that will diminish your character and cause the jury and the judge to start to doubt your ability. It’s very import to concentrate on your confidence and stay in that “confident zone” especially when you are on the stand, as well as during every conversation with all litigators prior to testifying.

Another quality I believe an expert witness must possess is the mastery of dialogue: the ability to speak with a good vocabulary and to know the words you should use when you’re delivering on the stand under oath. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years—after testifying dozens of times all over the country—is to take pauses as you’re gathering your next thought. When you’re nervous it’s human nature to stutter or say “um” between words. However, you will come across as much more of a professional if you pause instead of saying superfluous words like “um” or “uh,” and take your time when answering the question. And if you don’t understand the question, don’t try to talk just to talk. Ask the litigator to repeat the question to you so that you can completely understand what they’re asking and know how to answer it using the best dialogue possible.

The last quality I believe a great expert witness should possess is the ability to know when to talk and when to listen. Oftentimes during heated discussions – which often happens on the stand – the expert witness could get their adrenalin accelerated because of the cross examination. During that rapid-fire dialogue it’s best to just relax and let the litigator vent or finish their accelerated questioning. I often will wait and count to five after the litigator is done talking before I say anything, because that allows the energy in the courtroom to dissipate a little bit before you calmly answer the question, or say the next thing that you’re about to say. If you start to step on words you continue to increase the anxiety and the aggravation within the litigator and that dialogue exchange does not come across as professional. As an expert witness, you should always come across as professional, especially when you’re on the stand testifying.

I’d like any expert witnesses who read this blog post to share some other qualities and character traits that they feel expert witnesses should possess. You can tweet me at Ed_Primeau, or you can comment at the end of this blog post. I’d love to hear from you.

What is an Audio Video Expert Witness?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

audio-video-forensic-expert-1024x680 What is an Audio Video Expert Witness?Because there is more audio video evidence being presented in the court system today than ever before, there is a need for professionals to specialize in audio video forensics.  A professional who has been practicing audio and video engineering for ten or more years has the experience and expertise to understand the technical aspects of any audio and video recordings.  I have been a practicing audio engineer since 1978 and video engineer since high school video class which began in 1975.  Back in those days everything that was recorded was analog.  Even video was recorded on reel to reel spools of metal particle nylon video recording tape.

A person is not considered an expert witness because of technical experience alone. An audio video expert witness must have litigation experience.  I began my litigation experience in 1973 working as a probation officer for the 52-2 district court in Troy Michigan.  I minored in criminal justice while attending the University of Detroit.  The legal system always intrigued me.

While employed as an audio engineer at Ambience Recordings which used to be located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, I was working with a client–the FBI–on a criminal case in Detroit. They needed background noise removed from a confidential informant wired recording so the court could hear the conversation as it was recorded. The device that was used to make the recording was a miniature reel to reel recorder with 3” tape hubs.  The informant wore the microphone near his mouth and the recorder was hidden on his body.

I played the recordings from the Nagra reel to reel recorder into our studio’s mixing board.  I then patched in an external equalizer and reduced the background noise by lowering the frequency in the spectrum where noise was and raising the frequency where the voices were.  Once I had the external equipment calibrated, I transferred that recording to another Skully reel to reel recorder and made a restored master.

This activity is technical experience.  Young people who approach me about becoming a forensic expert always want to know what it takes to be an expert witness.  I tell them technical and litigation experience. The easy part is the technical training; the harder part is the litigation experience.

I was quickly becoming a real audio forensic expert. There was not much in the way of video evidence in litigation. However, my first video forensic case came in the form of a hidden camera video recording an employee stealing from the employer.   That is when I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Cain.  I went to Williams Bay Wisconsin and spent a week with Mr. Cain while he examined the video recording.  He was retained by the defendant and I was retained by the plaintiff.

I realized that week that I knew more about video than I gave myself credit for.  After all I had video production in high school and then in college.  This experience with Mr. Cain made me realize that a video forensic expert was responsible for authenticating video evidence, restoring poor quality video footage, looking for anomalies or edits in the recording and using external electronic devices as tools for the forensic examination process.

Back then, everything was non-computer.  Since then, I have had continuing education with the American College of Forensic Examiners International and I have become a registered investigator.  I have also taken CCTV, digital video certification and other expert witness training which is also a very important characteristic for expert witnesses. Technology changes and the expert witness must keep up with the current trends and new technology of all aspects of audio and video in order to maintain their expert status.

Soon after those early forensic experiences I was actively referred by other experts in the industry including Steve Cain because of my expertise and qualifications.

I became quite experienced testifying and when I took the stand and said what needed to be said about an audio or video recording, I was considered confident. I have been successful for almost 28 years now.

When you are looking for an audio video forensic expert, remember that having an expert who has testified as an audio expert as well as video expert will add credibility to your case and help the court as well as all parties in the litigation better understand the evidence and how it pertains to the facts as they actually occurred.

Four Tips on Hiring a Video Forensic Expert

Friday, November 4th, 2011

interview-1024x768 Four Tips on Hiring a Video Forensic ExpertAll 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.

Caught on Video: CCTV Surveillance

Friday, February 18th, 2011

3848994963_84d64b9f07_o-1024x768 Caught on Video: CCTV SurveillanceThe next time you walk down a city street, take a look around you and notice the number of video cameras and motion activation devices present that help control traffic, regulate complicated machinery and deter crime. They’re right there next to the street lights and traffic signals. Government buildings, police cars and even shopping malls use video surveillance equipment in many ways. This same equipment used to control and regulates traffic flow and machinery is known as CCTV video systems. One purpose is to regulate and another is to deter.

It is interesting that criminals have become aware of CCTV systems and consider the cameras when planning their strategy for a criminal activity.

CCTV is a visual assessment tool. Visual Assessment means having proper identifiable or descriptive information during or after an incident. These systems should not be used independently from other security measures. Identification goals to consider when implementing a CCTV system:

1. Personal Identification: ability of the viewer to personally identify something within the scene, beyond a shadow of a doubt. This does not reflect human identification, but rather, the ability to identify specific information or objects within an image.
Personal identification has two very important phases: The relationship of size and detail of an image, and the angle of view from which the scene is viewed. Without careful consideration of both aspects, your CCTV system merely records useless, unidentifiable images.

2. Action Identification: ability of the system to capture the events occurring in front of the camera as they actually happened. Because of the need for accuracy, using time-lapse video could cause problems. For example, if using a digital recorder or DVR, with a low image per second frame rate setting, some images may not be captured on the recorder. The lower frame rate setting is desired by many digital CCTV system users to reduce storage requirements of surveillance video on hard drives. The upside is with the cost of hard drive space becoming more economical, digital CCTV systems should be upgraded so the images per second feature can be increased and more surveillance video stored for review should it become necessary. On the Primeau Forensics YouTube page, there are video examples of this frame rate scenario:

Another problem in the analogue systems, when a Multiplexor switches between cameras for viewing different areas under security, an activity could occur at one of surveillance areas while that camera is off and another is on. Multiplexor’s are like video switchers: they periodically switch cameras to view by security personnel. The output of the multiplexor is most always recorded to a time lapse video tape recorder using ½ inch tape stock.

3. Scene Identification: ability for the scene to stand on its own merit. In a building with many similar hallways, equipped with surveillance cameras having similar angles of view, how can the hallways be differentiated when a CCTV monitor or tape is viewed? If an action is being recorded, how can each hallway be distinguished from the others? Scene identification is an important, but often overlooked, form of identification vital to effective video systems.

There’s no margin for error when it comes to public safety. Metropolitan police departments all across the country are doing their best to deter criminal activity. When it can’t be prevented, the agencies want to apprehend and help prosecute the perpetrators. With human resources stretched thin, video surveillance has become a critical tool in the war on crime; it puts thousands of extra “eyes” on the street 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Insight Video Net, LLC (IVN) has emerged as a leading provider of digital media software and services to capture and manage video, especially for the public safety market. IVN has developed software called the Central Management System, or CMS, to store, retain and manage the video that comes from “fixed” as well as “mobile” cameras. CMS makes sense of huge amounts of raw video and turns it into indisputable evidence admissible in court.

Cameras in public have become a way of life and we have grown to accept them and are use to them. In a city environment, a camera is connected to a closed circuit video television system hence the term (CCTV). This system has the ability to regulate the traffic by adjusting traffic signals according to traffic conditions.

In law enforcement, video recording systems are installed in most police cruisers and help bring accidents, drunk driving and other traffic stop situations into the court room. Video forensic experts help courts understand video evidence and video evidence admissibility.

From high tech tom low tech, CCTV systems come in many shapes and sizes and wired and wireless combinations. Two manufacturers of high tech systems are Pelco and IVC. Less complicated systems are manufactured by Fairfax Electronics and Safe Mart.

Pelco has one of the largest CCTV systems is in place in the Denver, Colorado. It is one of the most intricate and largest CCTV systems in place in a city today.

The Denver system manufactured by Pelco is comprised of hundreds of closed circuit cameras in dozens of municipal locations both indoor and outdoor and all connected to a very large computer that can be monitored in many different locations.

IVC also specializes in multi-site video networks with remote access to live and stored video and equipment activity.

CCTV systems play a major role in healthcare organizations and hospital operations. Medical practitioners rely on CCTV systems to critical care units under observation 24 hours a day seven days a week.

It is this author’s contention that:
1. Within five years, every major city across America will have a surveillance system similar to Denver’s in place as well as surveillance systems that will require Video Forensic Consultants involved in litigation to help courts understand the evidence being presented.

2. There are three primary drivers of video surveillance.
a. The ability to control access to areas that have restrictions, i.e., birth centers, emergency departments, pharmacies, surgical areas.
b. The ability to deter crime
c. The ability to record data and measure statistical information over a period of time.

3. General surveillance for after-the-fact (Forensic) investigations will continue to play a major role in litigation.

4. The ability to activity for security and non-security purposes will save institutions substantial amounts of money annually .

Through service agreements, a $2.5 million performance contract, and ongoing support, Johnson Controls has helped WJMC reduce operating costs, improve comfort conditions for patients and staff, enable facility personnel to be more efficient, and significantly reduce energy consumption. In mid-2007, WJMC became the first hospital in Louisiana to earn an ENERGY STAR® from the U.S. EPA. In addition, Johnson Controls has helped the hospital to improve ventilation, maximize the efficiency of a new central energy plant, manage utility bills effectively and continuously improve facility management practices.

In an interview between Pelco (A global leader in CCTV systems) and Tony W. York, CHPA, and CPP, Mr. York stated:

“Video security is a fabulous tool, when it is integrated with door and alarm controls, inventory tagging systems. Another thing that is really important is the retrieval of the captured video, which provides instant access for those after-the-fact investigations. I would call it revolutionary”.

Concerns over violent crime and civil liability lawsuits have caused schools, large corporations and small businesses to investigate avenues for securing their operations. Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems are a popular security tool to combat such problems.

Computer graphics digitally placed on the monitor and video cannot be relied on to provide the sole method of scene identification. These graphics can aid in identifying one scene from another when both have a similar angle of view. Without being able to identify the scene on its own merit, it would be easy to argue that the graphics were added to the tape after the fact.

Preventing crime may be a goal but is not always the result of the billions of dollars worth of closed circuit television systems in use today. Often times the video footage retrieved from CCTV systems adds a degree of perplexity to due process.

Video surveillance evidence has the potential of lengthening a litigation proceeding beyond that same proceeding without video evidence.

It takes additional time and manpower in the legal system for clerical, administrative and legal to have a video forensic expert examine video evidence as well as the video expert. This evidence is either analogue (becoming extinct) or digital.

Motions have to be filed in court for an expert to be able to examine the evidence which adds time and expense to the case. Experts often have to travel to the evidence as law enforcement is often skeptical and reluctant to release video evidence in fear it may become damaged or lost in transit. Authorities must maintain a chain of custody with video forensic evidence the same way they would with any other forensic evidence.

This consideration adds time and cost to a case that has to be paid. Often times it is the court, public defenders office or another branch of government that absorbs these costs in criminal matters. Other times it’s the defense or plaintiff in a civil matter who will incur the costs of having forensic video evidence authenticated and admitted into the courtroom.

As a video forensic expert, I have testified in cases where analogue (VHS) as well as digital video evidence was used. Both require a different methodology for examination and authentication. Every case I have testified in is unique and each judge overseeing those cases has reacted differently to the video evidence presented.

Many courts do not understand video forensic technology which is why it is sometimes looked at as a junk science. However, In an April 12th, 2005 article, the New York Times reported “400 court cases dropped or acquitted because of VIDEO EVIDENCE contradicting POLICE LIES”.

The courts that accept video evidence supported by a video forensic expert are usually those that involve an experienced trial attorney. So when presenting video evidence today, analogue or digital, admissibility boils down to the arguments of admissibility given by the presenting attorney. When accepted, video evidence can help a jury understand a crime scene or situation more clearly.

Digital video evidence has a better chance of admissibility in court if the evidence follows a chain of custody protocol. Just like other evidence in a crime, law enforcement personnel are responsible for witnessing the exporting of the video evidence and delivering to evidence police lock up for examination by a qualified video forensic expert. Analogue tapes should also be picked up by law enforcement and taken to police lock up for future examination by a qualified video forensic personnel.

Often  each party in the litigation will hire their own video forensic expert. For example, in criminal cases, the police have crime labs that employ forensic video experts and the defense seek outside expert assistance. In Civil cases, each party will often seek a forensic expert depending on the position of each side with regard to the video evidence. One example would be authentication and another would be admissibility.

Closed circuit TV, crime scene recreation video and cruiser traffic stop footage as evidence has become an element in litigation virtually overnight. Law enforcement agencies and our legal system have come to accept video as evidence in the courtroom and have become accustom to video forensics as a legitimate science.

Unfortunately, those engaged in legal proceedings from time to time try to alter video evidence in their favor which is where the science of video forensics becomes a value to the legal proceeding.

There are two recording formats for Closed Circuit TV security systems CCTV:

1. Digital is video recorded onto a computer hard drive
2. Analogue is video recorded onto a magnetic tape

A CCTV system is a closed circuit television security system that employs cameras and either an analogue tape based recorder or digital computer or DVR-digital video recorder- based video recorder. Both record camera views onto their system and store them for later viewing, reviewing or in the case of a crime committed, identifying.

Multiple cameras can be installed at a large or small location and viewed as well as recorded simultaneously on either analogue or digital format. Analog incorporating multiplexers, digital incorporates software programs.

The more sophisticated systems like the ones Indianapolis manufacturer Pelco carries, and has in place in Denver, have many adjustments, settings, frame options and video export options as well as signal routing features. The lower end VHS systems are pretty straight forward and easy to operate but have less features and options. Both systems can incorporate point, tilt zoom or steady non moving cameras. The point tilt zoom cameras (PTZ) can move to follow action both automatically and manually. This activity can be operated by security personnel manually or through a technology of motion activation that detects the change in gray scale in the dedicated area. In the second situation of motion activation, the PTZ camera will be activated and follow the motion as it occurs.

Non moving cameras capture the area under security in a stationary fashion. The advantage to DVR’s is that the quality is far superior to analogue especially when images must be retrieved for identification purposes or crime scene recreation. Digital formats add compression to the CCTV video which decreases the size of the video files allowing more video to be stored in the DVR.

Some video evidence in cases where analogue video was used as evidence was recorded on time lapse VHS tape which has been recycled many times. The examination and authentication process requires a different process to authenticate than digital video. Only Hollywood can produce a high quality image from a worn out pixilated (give a definition) time lapse, low resolution analogue video tape of the suspected crime.

When you factor in how much money it could cost to recover from the crime, pay a forensic expert to try and recover an image, purchasing a digital CCTV system is a much better investment and will produce better forensic results.

Tape or analogue systems often fail to show useable evidence in a court of law. The main reason is because tapes are recycled over and over and even accidentally erased.

Once a crime has been committed and caught on a digital recording device (DVR), a back up digital video can immediately be made of the crime using digital video technology. This back up video often called “book marking” or an” Alarm File” which is immediately taken out of the normal refresh cue and stored in a safe area for further forensic examination.

When analogue video is entered as evidence, the court or police make copies for all parties involved in the litigation. Those copies experience generation loss, similar to making copies of a document on a copy machine. Additionally, when storing analogue video with repeated playing often has degradation to the original crispness of the image on the video tape especially if the tape has been recycled which is often the case. It is much more difficult and expensive to create an image from a 75 dots per inch analogue recycled tape than it is to create an image from a 300 dots per inch digital image. There is no comparison. The digital video proves time and time again a much clearer image.

Think about a crime free society using closed circuit television systems. These security systems reduce the potential for crime in your business, institution or community. There are bleeding edge closed circuit television systems that can increase security, reduce loss and prevent crime as well as control intricate machinery and just about other activity you can imagine. Closed Circuit Video Surveillance is once step closer to having a crime free society safely operating businesses, schools and institutions.

 

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The Value of an Expert Witness

Friday, October 8th, 2010

14689247947_2a6a479874_o-1024x682 The Value of an Expert WitnessAn expert witness is a person who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience, is believed to have expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular subject. His or her expertise is beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially and legally rely upon the witness’s specialized (scientific, technical or other) opinion about their area of expertise. The expert witness will render an opinion, also known as the expert opinion, about the forensic evidence presented.

Expert witnessess help lawyers develop strategies on how the evidence in question should be argued or presented in court. Often  audio evidence may not be original or genuine and should be closely examined by the audio forensic expert to authenticate the evidence or strategize with the lawyer on how to write the motion to have the case dismissed or audio evidence removed from the case.

Expert witnesses have a complete understanding of legal proceedings and can be a huge aid to the plaintiff, defendant and courts when a piece of audio evidence is part of the legal case. Defendants who are facing serious charges especially need to seek the guidance and advice of an audio forensic expert. Plaintiffs who want to establish a solid case should seek the help of an video forensic expert to authenticate their video evidence prior to entering the court room. Expert witnesses are valuable resources to courts and other legal professionals.

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Noise Reduction for Video: Sound Clarification

Friday, October 8th, 2010

3692124539_78e9814c90_b Noise Reduction for Video: Sound ClarificationThe first step when restoring audio on a video recording is to remove background noise. More often than not, a recording in need of sound clarification or restoration has background noise covering the sounds that are desired to be heard. Noise reduction is the process of reducing and often eliminating that unwanted background sound from a video recording. Sound like wind, motors, lawnmowers, electronic hums and buzzes and other sounds may be louder than the spoken word and cover that speech so it is not audible.

Once the background noise is removed, the desired spoken words can be heard, the video recording is improved and the video recording will provide more forensic support. There are many levels of clarification acceptance. Some of the time the recording needs to be clarified so a jury can hear it. Other times the recording may only need to be audible to a transcriptionist or court reporter. Then, once the transcription is created, the audio forensic expert can go back, listen to the clarified recording comparing to the transcript and correcting any discrepancies using the expert’s critical listening skills.

The recording can then be certified by the forensic expert and an affidavit created as to the genuineness of the transcript for the legal proceeding. That way, if the audio recorded evidence is difficult to hear in a court room, the audio expert not only certifies the audio recorded evidence but can also testify on its accuracy.

This is a good example of a strategy between lawyers and expert witnesses. It is the expert witness’s job to suggest strategies to lawyers, public defenders, police and other government agencies that retain the expert witness. The lawyer will have difficulty and not represent the client to the best of their ability if they do not understand the audio forensic process and retain an audio forensic expert. The audio forensic expert of course cannot develop a strategy without a lawyer who is licensed to present the law case in the court room.

Before beginning your case that includes audio evidence, consult with a qualified audio forensic expert.

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Video Forensic Expert Edward J Primeau Curriculum Vitae

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