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Posts Tagged ‘Video Forensics’

The Evolution of Mobile Video and What It Could Mean for Video Forensics

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

tU3ptNgGSP6U2fE67Gvy_SYDNEY-162-300x200 The Evolution of Mobile Video and What It Could Mean for Video ForensicsOver the past few years, we’ve seen a significant acceleration in the development and manufacture of consumer-grade, mobile video devices. From smartphones to GoPros, video recording has become substantially less expensive and far more accessible to consumers, and this may change the game regarding digital evidence.

This consumer video revolution now allows us to capture video of events as they occur. This phenomenon has created powerful repercussions in the courtroom. Thanks to the easy availability of video devices and trends in social media, we now have presented at trial video evidence of events that, until recently, have rarely been made known.

For example, take this video of a woman from Mississippi. As she begins to merge onto the highway, a truck hits her car, causing the car to catch fire. She seems trapped in the car (either physically, or due to shock), and with her children in the back and the flames coming ever closer to the gas tank, she needs to act quickly.

Suddenly, from behind the scene of the accident, another truck driver leaves his rig and tries to save the family by pulling them out of the burning car. Minutes after they are successfully rescued, the car explodes. Had the truck driver been a few minutes later, it is likely that the entire family would have been killed.

This is a heroic, inspiring story. An inspiring story that would have gone completely unnoticed if weren’t for the rescuer’s dash cam recording the entire incident. A heroic act so great that it has rarely been seen outside of movies and television, it became a huge story, and something that would have been unrecognized by the public without the technology of this generation.

However, the documentation of heroic stories like this is only the beginning of the positive effects from the spread of video devices to every pocket, purse, and vehicle. This public video revolution can also make or break a court case, providing the crucial evidence that makes true justice possible.

For this, let’s use the currently infamous video, “Officer Go-F***-Yourself.” The officer in Ferguson appeared at a peaceful protest late one night in August. He approached a group of young adult protesters with an assault weapon drawn, pointed it at them, and he told them that if they did not return to their homes, he would “f***ing kill” them.

In the world of law enforcement, this kind of behavior on the part of an officer is absolutely improper and illegal. The protest was peaceful; the young adults weren’t causing any harm or exhibiting disorderly behavior. Hell, even if they were, threatening protesters in such a crude manor is clearly unacceptable in a free society.

Had this happened 10 years ago, it might have gone completely unnoticed. The officer in question may have gotten away with blatantly making death threats to civilians, and the only evidence from the protesters would’ve turned into a game of “he said, she said.” However, because one of the protesters was smart enough to take out their cell phone and document the entire confrontation, justice was done and the officer was suspended from the force. The police in Ferguson were able to see the events exactly as they transpired, so it was indisputable that he was guilty. This, in itself, is revolutionary, and is an indication of how much power video evidence can have in the courtroom.

The fact stands that a clear representation, such as video, is the most indisputable evidence there is, and allowing the jury, officials and lawyers to witness the event with their own eyes and ears is the most effective way to present evidence. Other forms of evidence can be easily disputed, but allowing the court to see, hear, and experience the event for themselves is the most effective method of presenting evidence, even more reliable than an eyewitness account.

Think about it this way. Consider the most powerful documentaries you’ve ever seen. What do they all have in common? Generally, they all rely on the reality of the situation by allowing viewers to experience it for themselves. You can throw out as many facts and statistics as you want, but seeing, hearing, and experiencing actual issues, people, circumstances, and actions is what will stick with people most. The feeling viewers derive from seeing the faces and hearing the people speak is incomparable to any statistic in the world. This is why Charlie LeDuff’s piece on Ferguson is one of the most powerful, yet. It doesn’t focus on the narrative; it doesn’t focus on stats; it focuses on the people. It focuses on those who are so passionate about this cause that they would fight, risk arrest, or even die for it.

The consumer video device revolution is so important to the justice system, and the best way to reap its benefits is to remain aware of its power. If you experience anything unlawful, always remember that the little rectangle sitting in your pocket could make or break the fate of those guilty. These devices allow us to capture indisputable evidence about what truly took place, and this is a privilege we can’t ignore. If these developments continue, they could completely change the face of digital forensic evidence forever.

Video Forensics and Post-Litigation Responsibility

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Post-Litigation-1024x681 Video Forensics and Post-Litigation ResponsibilityAs a video forensic expert I’m seeing more and more video evidence in criminal and civil litigation today. I examine the evidence, often having to identify elements in video recordings, creating images that are exported from the video recording, which are identified frames from the video that reveal details that are important to the litigation, and then enlarging the resolution and dots per inch in that video frame export to help identify logos on clothing, or license plate numbers, or make and model of cars or the year of a car to help identify who the subject in the video might be.

The work product that I build while conducting an investigation as a video forensic expert increases in size the longer the litigation continues. Upon completion of a criminal case or a settlement agreement by the parties involved in a civil litigation, the forensic expert must contact their client – whether it be the court, law enforcement or a lawyer, and ask them what should be done with the original evidence that was investigated as well as the work product that was created during the investigation. It is best, if possible, to get their instructions in writing (particularly if the instructions are to destroy the evidence and work product), just to protect yourself and make sure all your bases are covered.

The reason this is so crucial is because often one of the terms of a settlement is the destruction of all of the evidence that was used during the litigation. Should this evidence become compromised, accidentally, by anyone involved in the case, that would ruin the terms of the settlement for the parties in the litigation.

It is my responsibility, as a video forensic expert, to contact my client and ask what they want me to do with the evidence with which I was provided, as well as the work product, once the litigation is settled. In my opinion, there are two ways for the forensic examiner to release the work product and the original evidence that was worked on during the investigation.

Number one, return all of the evidence and your work product to the attorney, using delivery confirmation, with signature required.

The second way is destroying all of the evidence if that is what your client wants you to do. And by destroying the evidence I mean deleting all of the files that are on any internal and external hard drives on the computer that was used during the investigation, or destroying any compact discs or DVDs by breaking them in half or scratching the playing surfaces.

It’s very important for the forensic examiner to keep good notes during the investigation process so there is a paper trail of where all the media files the investigator worked on during the forensic investigation are stored so the expert knows where to go back to delete all of the work product and original evidence if there was no external evidence used.

The main purpose for external evidence – such as a DVD or CD-ROM – is because during a trial exhibit stickers must be placed on everything that is going to be entered as evidence. Otherwise, files can remain electronic through the investigative process except when meta data is crucial as part of the investigation.

Forensic experts know that sending audio or video digital files electronically over the Internet can often strip meta data off of original recordings inhibiting the forensic expert’s identification.

Either way, the purpose of the message I am trying to convey in this blog post is the importance of returning or destroying all evidence and work product after a case is determined or a settlement is reached. This is a practice that is not talked about enough in the forensic community and is extremely important for all forensic experts – audio, video or otherwise – to keep in mind.

Video is Everywhere: Mind Your Manners in Public

Friday, February 24th, 2012

5610631522_53319bb4fe_o-1024x681 Video is Everywhere: Mind Your Manners in PublicI recently had a video forensic case that involved a dispute between an employer and a former employee. It was a disability case where the employee was collecting disability that they were not entitled to.

The employer’s insurance company hired a private investigator to follow the former employee and catch them on video doing activity that they claimed they could not do. During a deposition the former employee demonstrated how they had a very hard time getting up from a chair and walking across the room.

A few days before the deposition and a few days after the deposition the former employee was caught on video moving in ways they testified they could not during their deposition.

You would think that if a person is going to lie about how they are disabled they would be more careful in public to not act differently, especially with the risk of being caught on video.

We live in an extremely litigious society and many people are looking for an easy way out. An accident occurs at work and they leverage the accident to benefit their financial future. We have all seen the TV shows that catch these people spilling water on the floor then pretending to slip and fall in order to be able to file a law suit designed to compensate them so they have some financial security.

Then there are criminals, many of whom are addicted to drugs, who rob gas stations and convenience stores without considering that there may be video cameras and recorders on the property that can later identify them.

Regardless of your thought process when committing a crime or having fun in public, remember that you are more than likely almost always being recorded on camera. It’s worse to be caught in a lie on video than to be honest and live your life as intended. Money is the root of all evil and a powerful motivator.

I have seen it all after 28 years as a video forensic expert. Children being assaulted and abused, robberies and even murder all caught on video. I have testified in all types of cases that involve video evidence and the purpose of these videos is genuine. Video does not lie and eventually the truth does come out in litigation.

photo credit: big brother via photopin (license)

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.

Video Forensics: Junk Science…or the Real Deal?

Friday, February 18th, 2011

2529145057_356a1a3bed_o-1024x599 Video Forensics: Junk Science…or the Real Deal?It seemed like a routine traffic stop…or was it? The police said they had probable cause, but did they? The video footage, retrieved from the very sophisticated, digital-video surveillance system mounted in the police car, shows tinted windows on the victim’s car; so how could the police see they had no seat belts on? Bringing in a video forensic expert helped bring truth to the courtroom and prove scientifically that probable cause was not met, and the case was dismissed.

A bank robber thought the baseball cap would hide his face from the surveillance cameras, but the installation company for the closed-circuit television system (CCTV) had experience working with a video forensic expert who helped them figure out how to best position the cameras so all activity in the bank could be caught on video. The thief got away with $780 dollars, but was quickly apprehended and identified through the aid of an expert; he’s now serving seven years for the heist.

In a fatal shooting that was caught on surveillance video, the accuser’s face was identified for a brief second. With a few simple forensic video applications, like clarification and enlargement, as well as importing a frame from PhotoShop, the shooter was identified and brought to justice.

No longer a unique aid to deterring crime or capturing the criminal actions of the unsavory (as well as recording the mundane, casual incidents of everyday life), CCTV is now so pervasive, it can be found in locations from convenience stores to sports arenas, mall parking lots to traffic corners…even in doggy boarding camps where you can check on your family pet from your Blackberry or your computer.

While the protests are rampant that CCTV is a violation of our Constitutional right to privacy – especially given the many ways in which CCTV is now being used – there is no doubt that its value is embraced by litigators, police departments, security stations, airports and so on. With human resources stretched thin, video surveillance has become a critical tool in the war on crime, putting millions of extra “eyes” on the job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But what happens once the perpetrator or action in question has been caught on video? What’s next? What transpires can often be a quagmire of “he saw, she saw,” with differences of opinion varying widely, with convincing arguments presented by both defense and prosecuting attorneys, and sometimes, a manipulation of the facts spinning in favor of one party versus another. This is where a video forensics expert can prove or disprove the layman’s observations, providing authoritative information or testimony based on a keen eye and knowledge of the technology.

Yet, many argue that forensic video technology is a “junk science,” a term used in this instance to label the practice as having no merit or credibility, that which cannot be authenticated, analyzed, or supported by scientific data. Science, by it’s very meaning, refers to that which can be proven systematically, and “junk”…well, that word is self-explanatory! The main reasons forensic video technology is often branded a “junk science” are three-fold: First, there are no governing boards or licensing groups overseeing the video forensics profession, like you find in the legal or medical fields, for example. Because of this, theoretically, anyone could be touted as an expert, affecting the credibility and opinions of those with reputations previously held in high regard. Second, because video forensics is a complicated process and there are no standards on which to base testimony or proof – with no cohesiveness within the science itself – there can be wide gaps in opinions and observations. Third, because the technology and interpretation of video forensics (and audio) science can be difficult to understand by nonprofessionals, it’s often discounted as not having any value, especially by the side not presenting the video evidence in court.

Such is often the case in the courtroom where a Daubert motion can occur (in those states that have adopted its use). The word “Daubert” comes from an actual proceeding, taken from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (1993) decision whereby the judges were directed to examine the scientific method beneath expert evidence, ruling what was scientifically relevant, reliable and admissible. In short, because of the Daubert case, The Supreme Court mandated that federal judges shall act as “gatekeepers” by deciding whether expert evidence be allowed before the jury.

If a Daubert motion is exercised, based on the Supreme Court’s opinion, the following is considered admissible scientific evidence: 1) evidence based on a theory or technique that can be tested; 2) the theory or technique has been reviewed by the expert’s peers; 3) the technique has a known error rate; and 4) there is general acceptance of the underlying science in the scientific community.

Where this can adversely affect the admissible testimony of a video forensics expert is that judges are expected to examine and understand the methods of the expert and determine whether or not they are qualified to testify. Since there are no clear guidelines on which to base such credible witnesses, in many cases judges are left to render an opinion without adequate knowledge of the science.

Because of this, a Daubert motion can be used by either side of the litigation table to exclude evidence made by an expert which might support other proof, or further incriminate. Such was the case where the author of this article was called in to testify in a federal court drug trial on behalf of the defense. I was prepared to provide an expert, detailed opinion involving “voice recognition” evidence. But the prosecuting attorney convinced the judge to do a Daubert hearing, in an attempt to prove I wasn’t credible.

In this scenario, I was required to answer questions proving I was qualified to give the court an expert opinion on audio evidence. This included verifying I was a certified digital video expert; that I’d completed several successful court cases; that I’d published articles to support my expertise; and so forth. Yet, the court deemed me unqualified to testify, thus proving there are always two sides to every court case; that rulings can be based less on experience and fact, and sometime more by a lack of understanding the scientific nature of video/audio forensics by the court.

In 2007 Kelly Gorham, a vibrant nursing student from a small town in Maine, missing for nearly a month, was found murdered, the result of strangulation, and buried in a shallow grave on property owned by the father of her ex-fiancé, Jason Twardus. Having been jilted by Gorham two months prior to her disappearance, Twardus is accused of killing Gorham in Maine and burying her in his native state of New Hampshire. Twardus’ alibi was inconsistent with some of the evidence found.

Flash-forward to late 2009 when the murder case goes to trial…and crucial evidence based on video footage hangs in the balance. Friends and family of Gorham believe Twardus is the man seen on surveillance footage from a convenience store in Colebrook, N.H. the day after Gorham was last seen alive. The store is only a few miles from where Gorham’s body was found. The footage shows a car that appears to be the same color and make as Twardus’ vehicle, and the image of a man Gorham’s family swears is her ex-fiancé (even though his face is not discernable) based on his posture, baggy clothing, profile and characteristic walk.
The prosecution brought in video forensic analyst Grant Fredericks to verify the family’s contention. After questioning Fredericks extensively on his background and qualifications, the defense attorney called video forensics, as a whole, “voodoo science” and a “pseudoscience.” Fredericks contested the defense’s viewpoint during testimony, citing his ability to analyze beyond that of a layperson’s eye.

In addition to other aspects cited, the affidavit Fredericks submitted to the court states there is a “strong likelihood” the car seen in the security footage is Twardus’ green Subaru Impreza, and that the sweatshirt the man was wearing is “consistent with in every respect” to a sweat shirt seized by police from Twardus’ home. “That man cannot be eliminated, in my opinion, as the man in the video,” Fredericks said. However, as of this writing, the defense filed a motion to suppress the testimony of Fredericks, which the judge is expected to rule on sometime in early 2010.

The courts that accept video evidence – supported by a video forensic expert – are usually those that involve an experienced trial attorney, with admissibility boiling down to the strength of the presenting attorney’s argument. When accepted, video evidence can help a judge or jury understand a crime scene or situation more clearly. Admissibility is stronger if a video forensic expert is involved.

In another milestone U.S. Supreme Court ruling, setting precedence for how video evidence may be decided on in a court case, consider the outcome of Scott v. Harris (2007), where appellate courts were given more freedom to decide issues on summary judgment. In a summary judgment practice a court generally considers the evidence to be more conducive to the nonmovant (a “nonmovant” refers to the party not filing a motion).

The eventual case of Scott v. Harris was preceded by a high-speed chase whereby a Georgia county deputy, on the tail of the speeding vehicle, was given permission from his supervisor to employ a PIT maneuver (allowing the patrol car to pull alongside the vehicle and force it to spin out or exit the road in an effort to bring it to a standstill). Instead, deciding not to exercise the PIT maneuver, Deputy Scott pushed the rear bumper of the fleeing vehicle, resulting in the driver (Harris) losing control of the car, jumping an embankment, overturning and crashing – whereby Harris became a quadriplegic.

Harris filed suit asserting that Scott violated his Fourth Amendment rights during the pursuit by using excessive force. After rulings in the lower courts denied Scott’s summary judgment motion on a qualified immunity claim, the matter went before the Supreme Court where, in an 8-1 ruling, they reversed and held that Scott’s effort to end the chase by forcing Harris off the road was justifiable and reasonable, and that Scott was entitled to immunity.

With a quadriplegic plaintiff looking for relief from the judicial system, how is that the Supreme Court found in Defendant Scott’s favor? In a rare and uncommon move for the Supreme Court, they accepted the presentation of video evidence of the chase, the main contributing factor that influenced the court’s decision. Writing for the Court, Justice Scalia concluded, “It is clear from the videotape (Harris) posed an actual and imminent threat to the lives of any pedestrians who might have been present, to other civilian motorists, and to the officers involved in the chase,” thus contradicting Harris’ version of the facts.

In future cases where video evidence is introduced, litigants will be able to cite Scott v. Harris that a court, not a jury, is competent to decide issues usually left to the jury to determine, particularly where video evidence contradicts the nonmovant’s account of the facts.

While security footage can be used to support or refute criminal behaviors, or aid in civil cases, it has also proven valuable in uncovering police corruption and/or ineptness, and in fact, may be the best way to circumvent police lies and collusion.

In 2004, during the Republican National Convention in New York City, a massive number of protesters participated in a broad range of activities, resulting in over 1800 arrests, a record number for any political convention in the U.S. Most of those arrested were carrying out lawful and peaceful actions, yet the NYPD claimed disorderly conduct and fabricated a number of the charges. Video evidence, contradicting the assertions of the police, and much of it provided by private parties, proved the innocence of hundreds of people, with over 400 of the cases dropped.

In another incident last summer, near the Philadelphia airport, four friends made a 3:00 a.m. stop in a convenience store shortly after being involved in a minor fender-bender with their Mazda. The driver of the other vehicle, the son of a police officer, rear-ended the Mazda with his Buick, then left the scene after a purported exchange between the parties.

The Buick’s driver located his father, on duty that night, and the two set out to locate the Mazda, spotted in the store’s parking lot.
Moments after entering the store, 20-year-old Agnes Lawless was standing at the counter when Officer Lopez, father to the other driver, grabbed Lawless from behind and violently pushed her, striking her with his left hand and shoving and striking his gun in her face with his right hand. In a frantic struggle to defend herself, Lawless was arrested and charged with assaulting the officer.
Lawless and her friends filed complaints with the police department’s Internal Affairs division, but in many cases like this it’s the defendant’s word against that of the police…except when there’s surveillance video to prove one’s innocence. The case against Lawless was dropped after video footage from the store’s four security cameras were examined.

In some instances when viewing video evidence, such as with the Lawless incident, the truth is blatantly clear-cut, by even the untrained observer. But in many cases, the proof often falls into gray areas easily argued between opposing parties. When a video forensic expert’s observations, analysis and opinion are based on his own perceptions, experience and expertise, especially without a governing of the profession or widespread acceptance of the science, it’s easy to see why video forensics is sometimes discounted.

Yet, in a world laden with video technology, and with video surveillance systems in nearly every public environment you can imagine, the task of interpreting what is seen on video, including authenticating and clarifying the images, is not within the realm of the legal profession. When the “videotape” is rewound, it is best left to the experts who can help the court better understand the technology and circumstances as they relate to each incident. That is, unless you’re on the side of the fence that thinks video forensics is a bunch of bunk…er, junk. Ultimately, however, in this author’s opinion, especially given the amount of forensic video evidence surfacing in the courts today, the science of video forensics will soon earn the respect of all legal personnel.

 

 

 

photo credit: Security Camera Portrait via photopin (license)

Video Forensic Expert Edward J Primeau Curriculum Vitae

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