Video work products are a way to document forensic investigations, such as evidence recovery, for reference at a later date. A video camera documents processes and procedures during a forensic investigation for future use. I have referred back to my video work product many times when I have questions later during the evolution of the case.
As an audio & video forensic expert, I have examined hundreds of audio and video recordings to determine authenticity, as well as enhance characteristics of the digital evidence. This video work product helps clarify the events as they occurred.
Types of Video Work Products
There are a few different digital video recording platforms that I use when creating video work product. I often use VIEVU body worn cameras and HDSLR photography based cameras. Each of these of systems serves a purpose in assisting with a forensic investigation.
Over the last few years, I have seen firsthand the significance and efficiency that body worn cameras and their recorded video can bring to the public, law enforcement, and legal proceedings. I personally use the VIEVU LE2 and LE3 body worn cameras. The LE3 records in 720p HD resolution and utilizes a 68 degree field of view. Other competitor cameras normally use a 130 degree field of view, which captures a wider field of view but less detail. And when it comes to video evidence, details are usually more important.
LE3 Body Worn Cameras
These body worn cameras also contain digital audio recorders, which record MP3 format audio at a 44.1kHz sampling rate and a 64kbps bit rate. This high sampling rate captures the full range of human hearing, making recorded audio more audible. In some cases, a client lawyer or law enforcement agencies require that videos record zero audio.
The LE3 audio recorder switches off separately from the video, providing flexibility in such a situation. The LE3 records to either MP4 or AVI video format for easy playability across various platforms utilizing the H.264 codec. These formats also allow easy integration into forensic programs, such as the Adobe Production Premium Suite. The 16 GB flash style storage system allows for either 12 hours of SD video or 6 hours of HD video and quick data transfer rates. The battery will last 5 hours during SD recording and 3 hours during HD recordings. The unit is also compatible with an external battery pack for extended battery life.
My main use for the LE3 body camera is recording my forensic process in the field. This includes retrieving evidence from different systems so I can review later and include it in my report. This supports the authenticity of my work product and any evidence used in the case. Often times, a forensic expert will be challenged by a client or opposing lawyer to verify the investigative materials’ chain of custody. Even minor details on how the investigation was conducted can have a large bearing on the authenticity of the evidence. A digital video recorde allows me to capture a video of the investigative process and dialogue explaining it. Including this work product to my forensic reports verifies the chain of custody and protects me as a forensic expert.
HDSLR Photography Camera
Another type of digital video camera that I use to produce video work product is an HDSLR photography camera. This type of equipment has become popular among the scientific community, as well as production companies, for its portability, versatility, quality, and functionality.
An HDSLR photography camera uses different size lenses to capture images and video depending on investigation requirements. HDSLR cameras record in 720p, 1080p, anamorphic and even 4k resolution. These cameras typically record at 30 minute intervals and have a battery life of approximately 2 hours, depending on the preferred quality and the available storage space. When connected to an external power source, these cameras record for longer intervals of time. HDSLR cameras are great for recording an alternative perspective to body cameras of an investigation or retrieval process. The flexibility of being able to produce individual still images as well as video throughout an investigation is also helpful with my forensic process.
In some investigations, a single perspective may not be sufficient to display the forensic process or document events. Another high-quality camera with perspective flexibility and interchangeable lenses can capture investigative aspects that body cameras cannot. Additionally, this lockdown feature of a point-and-shoot camera allows an investigator or client attorney to view the process as if they are watching in real time.
Another use for HDSLR cameras is recording accident reconstruction videos. An accident reconstruction video is a recreation of an event in the same environment they occurred. This allows them to be shown to a client investigator, client attorney, or law enforcement. It is most effective to show the real life series of events as opposed to 3D animation or a written statement.
CCTV Surveillance Systems
Closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems have been the dominant source of video evidence during my 30 years as a forensic expert.
Video evidence produced by CCTV systems can help reproduce accidents and disasters as they occurred for playback in different settings. One significant use a forensic expert has when recording video from a CCTV system is to create an exemplar. An exemplar recording is a recording made in the most similar way possible to the original piece of evidence. It uses the same equipment, settings, environment and conditions of the original evidence. Used as a comparison file to the original evidence, this recording helps determine authenticity. A forensic investigation compares both the quality of the video and the metadata included in the files.
It is a best practice at Primeau Forensics to video record forensic investigations. For example, we record our exemplar creation processes and evidence recovery. As a result, we can reference this video work product if our client has any questions during the life of their case.
The more video becomes available, the more real life situations enter the courtroom. Not to mention, the quality of body-worn cameras is improving to the point that video forensic enhancement is not necessary.
BODY WORN CAMERA RECORDS MURDER
For example, a department-issued body-worn camera recently captured events leading up to an officer’s murder in Flagstaff, Arizona. If the suspect hadn’t gone on to commit suicide, he could have stood trial to claim innonence in the incident. In this case, the video would save thousands of dollars that would have been spent investigating the officer’s death.
PRIMEAU FORENSICS TESTS BODY WORN CAMERAS
Primeau Forensics recently worked with VIEVU, a manufacturer based out of Seattle, Washington, to help in the research and development of their body-worn cameras. VIEVU sells its cameras to more than 4,000 police agencies in 16 countries. Our team helped them test the field of view (FOV) for their cameras. Additionally, we researched the various FOV options to learn the optimal lens degree in field situations.
APPROVED FUNDING FOR POLICE DEPARTMENTS
President Obama recently proposed a bill to provide police department for the purchase of body-worn cameras. The proposal includes $75 million to help pay for 50,000 of the lapel-mounted cameras, with state and local governments paying half the cost. This proposal came shortly after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. What is more, this is a crucial development in forensic video. These cameras help litigators learn more about a series of events that occurred, a reality that excites video forensic experts like ourselves. Most importantly, this has the ability to save our judicial system money and ensure a correct decision in a person’s guilt or innocence.
We have previously discussed techniques that video forensic experts use when conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement. What we have yet to discuss is how we get the best results when enhancing mobile video recordings.
An Introduction to Smartphone Video Evidence
Since most mobile video evidence is shot freehand on a smartphone camera, you can’t guarantee it will be decent quality. People naturally shake when recording dramatic events. The placement of your subject and method of recording video can lead to poor video evidence that needs forensic enhancement.
Video forensic experts know available software programs and outboard digital signal processors that can help your video provide valuable information to the authorities. Primeau Forensics’ team of experts have reviewed and enhanced hundreds of videos, many of which are from smartphone cameras. One of the most prevalent problems in our experience is unstable recordings. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to tell what’s happening.
Adobe products are excellent tools for video enhancement assignments. Adobe After Effects has a plug-in called the warp stabilizer which creates a full frame reference for the shakiness of smartphone video. It enhances the audience’s ability to view the video and more effectively determine the events that occurred.
Smartphone Video Enhancement Examples
The two clips inserted below showcase video enhancement techniques. The first is from an actual video enhancement case and was recorded using an iPhone. No stabilization has been applied to this video. Notice how difficult it is to view.
In the next video, we take the same source clip and time apply several filters, including warp stabilization. Notice how much easier it is to view the video as the frame follows its motion, creating a more stable picture for analysis.
A trained forensic expert knows how to apply tools that enhance video evidence. These tools allow you to zoom in and clarify otherwise difficult to see events. However, it is important to note that these processes may lower your video quality. And as Hollywood may lead you to believe, fixing it isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the enhance button.
Pixels and Image Distortion
When zooming in on a mobile video/cell phone video enhancement, its pixels can reduce video quality. Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. A specific amount of pixels make up the clear image you see in front of you. To further explain, think of a large collage composed of much smaller pictures. Once combined in a specific order (usually by color), the smaller pictures create one larger image. Think of pixels as those smaller square picures that make up one large picture. However, expanding an image also means increasing the size of each pixel and can cause image distortion.
Photoshop and other Adobe programs offer pixel interpolation. Generally speaking, pixel interpolation tools blend cubic pixels together to create a more cohesive image. You can see in the second video above, the image has been enhanced so the viewer can better see the events that occurred. It is important to note that video quality hasn’t been compromised because pixel interpolation techniquees helped keep the image clear.
Smartphone Video Orientation
Smartphone orientation is the biggest issue we see when conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement. Always be sure to record horizontally, or landscape, in order to capture a larger portion of the scene. The vertical position records a much more narrow view of the scene and keeps potentially valuable information out of reach.
In the footage shown above, notice that at the 0:25 second mark, the camera focuses on the Jeep pulling up as another officer runs toward the scene. This distracts our focus away from the scene and we miss a substantial amount of the incident. Had this evidence been shot horizontally, we would have been able to view a greater portion of activity as the officer arrived at the scene. We would also have been able to better see the white Jeep in the background, which was an important detail.
With the expansion of mobile video technology, any cell phone could effectively record a crime scene that can go on to become crucial evidence. The highest quality video recording can help litigators more effectively. If you have any further questions on conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement, please contact us for a pro bono consultation.
After the controversial grand jury announcement in the case of Michael Brown, President Obama has proposed the idea of issuing police departments across the nation with body worn cameras for law enforcement. Between Michael Brown, and the controversy behind the Eric Garner case, citizens are asking, “Will body worn cameras help police as well as the public?” In this video forensic expert’s opinion, the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
ADVANTAGES OF BODY WORN CAMERAS AND VIDEO EVIDENCE
Video is the least challenged of all digital media forensic evidence. It provides a clear indication of the events as they occurred by allowing the judge and jury to observe the event with their own eyes. Therefore, nothing is as revealing as video to clearly show the court exactly what happened.
If the officer involved in the Michael Brown shooting, Darren Wilson, had a body camera, the case might have had a different outcome. The ability for the jury to see something first person can be invaluable to their decision.
For example, in the video embedded below, courtesy of ABC News, we see two pieces of evidence. First, footage of a confrontation taken from the dash-cam. Second, evidence taken from the body worn camera. As the first half of the video shows, the police officer in question tackles the suspect for seemingly no reason. The body camera, however, tells a completely different story.
The white Kia in the driveway blocks the event that takes place at 1:53 of the video. The suspect openly tries to assault the police officer in question. In this instance, had a body-worn camera not been issued, the jury may have interpreted this in a completely different way.
REVOLUTIONIZING THE COURT SYSTEM
Last year, Primeau Forensics had the opportunity to test and review one of these body-worn cameras, the VIEVU LE2. These cameras would be phenomenal for police forces all over the U.S. It’s 72-degree wide angle lens allows for a wider first person perspective. That means even a suspect standing at a distance from the officer is still being recorded. The near-professional quality of the audio and video ensure a clear understanding of the situation. In addition, the digital signature security ensures that the video footage is tamper-proof while on the device.
In conclusion, body worn cameras could completely revolutionize the court system and how it interprets evidence. Video like this can be instrumental to the outcome of a case, as it provides the most realistic representation of what exactly transpired in a given confrontation. As shown above, not even a dash-cam can always show us everything. However, having a first person perspective of a given confrontation is pivotal to the jury’s final decision.
For more info on body-worn cameras, check out CEO Ed Primeau’s interview with VIEVU CEO Steve Ward here!
I recently created a podcast series on iTunes called BlindSpot. I created it for people interested in knowing more about becoming a forensic expert. The name BlindSpot comes from the concept that forensic experts see and hear what other people cannot. Forensic experts in various fields reveal the blind spot by identifying and acquiring evidence using their experience and expertise as forensic scientists.
In this blog post, I want to discuss an overview of what it takes to become an expert witness. This overview will cover the following questions:
- How do you transition your career into a forensic expert?
- What do you have to do to become a forensic expert in your industry?
- What do you do once you believe you have completed the necessary steps in order to be successful, especially in the courtroom?
Being a forensic expert requires the scientific expertise necessary to investigate a piece of evidence being used in court. Forensic accountants know how to use software programs as well as their learned skills to help solve accounting mysteries. They are also very good at math and problem solving. Forensic accountants are brought in when people suspect fraud and embezzlement, both personally and professionally. They can go back in ledgers and bank statements to determine the who and how in the matter.
Many Fields of Forensic Experts
A forensic accountant has the talent, skill and ability to solve these mysteries. But where did their talent come from? Much of a forensic expert’s training is in the classroom. I believe the best forensic experts not only perfect their expertise in training but they are also born with their expertise.
Computer forensic experts investigate computer systems to help solve mysteries about deleted files and operating system behavior. They look for deleted files and other computer trails in the operating history. When a file has been deleted, an electronic trail remains in its place. Experts are called in when police confiscate computer equipment after a crime was committed and they look for clues to help police convict or acquit the arrested. Computer forensic experts also get involved with forensic accountants to help solve financial crimes, because much of today’s accounting is done on computers.
Computer forensic experts also understand modified, accessed, and created meta data that helps litigators understand the truth about an evidence file. Knowing this forensic information helps the authorities understand a suspect’s behavior and intent surrounding a crime or alleged crime.
Civil engineers help forensic experts with recreating an accident scene. These forensic experts use video or animation to bring the accident scene into the court room, scientifically and accurately depicting the faults involved. Doing so helps the judge and jury better understand the accident scene and events leading up to it.
Medical experts help litigators understand medical procedures and how medical methodology should be followed. They explain in reports and testimony how a medical accident occurred and how it could have been avoided. These experts also explain to the judge and jury what went wrong or what was right about a malpractice procedure in question.
Beginning Your Forensic Journey
Your resume is the starting point for your forensic career. If you don’t have a resume, make one. This document will eventually become your forensic expert curriculum vitae, CV, which is Latin for resume.
If you have graduated college, seek out continuing education training in your field of expertise. This training can be a certificate course taught by another established forensic expert or forensic association. You can also start by designing problem solving experiments. Science is observation. And the more experience you have observing science as a forensic expert, the better.
Join some associations and attend their meetings. This is a great way to learn more about your field of expertise, as well as meet people who will eventually become your peers. You can learn a lot by networking with your peers. Casual dinner conversation usually includes previous case stories that communicate experience. Once you get to know your peers, you can ask one that you have connected with to mentor you as you begin your transition into becoming a forensic expert.
Testifying and Non-Testifying Forensic Experts
Not all forensic experts decide to become expert witnesses and appear in court. There are many qualified experts in hundreds of fields who choose to avoid the stress of testifying and focus only on their scientific forensic work. Testifying in court is incredibly challenging and requires a lot of preparation to withstand the pressure and the stress of the courtroom.
Personally, I’ve found there are two aspects to my career as an audio and video forensic expert. The first is my actual audio and video forensic skills; the lab work and reports I write leading up to testifying in court. This includes audio and video enhancement and authentication. There are hundreds of forensic fields which need more experts because of growth and expansion.
The second aspect to my career is testifying. This skill almost outweighs my expert experience in the laboratory as far as importance, in my mind. This requires you to not only know your field of expertise, but to also know how to speak about your work and act in the courtroom. I’ve worked on and testified in hundreds of forensic assignments and court cases over the last thirty years, which has helped me build my reputation and credibility as an expert witness.
There are many things that a forensic expert should keep in mind when they’re planning on testifying in court. First, think about working closely with your client attorney and make sure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to trial. I’ve had a lot of lawyers over the years procrastinate on that pre-trial huddle or conference so that you understand what is expected of you. You can then anticipate what the prosecution or the opposing counsel may ask you during cross examination, which is one of the most important aspects to trial preparation.
Dressing and acting accordingly in court is crucial to establish an expert’s integrity in any case, especially in the eyes of the jury. Dressing is not just the clothes that you wear. It is your overall appearance, including your hair, makeup, and even your perfume or cologne. I try to maintain a conservative look in court. I know how to talk and how to make eye contact. These are all important ingredients when you’re testifying.
Transition Your Career from Professional to Forensic Expert
How do you transition your career into an expert witness? By writing your curriculum vitae (CV), completing forensic assignments, writing reports, courtroom experience, and understanding what it means to be under oath.
Regardless of whether you’re going to be a scientist or an expert witness and testify as well, you really need to know how to complete a forensic assignment. So if you’re thinking about a career as an expert witness, consider your training and continuing your education. That includes both online and classroom training. Doing so will help you stay current with steps taken in regard to forensic assignments and the processes you’re undergoing when conducting your forensic analyses. That will turn into a forensic report, which is also your script when testifying.
Next, when becoming a forensic expert that testifies, it is very important to gain courtroom experience. Of course, when you first start your forensic career you probably don’t have court experience. The first time you step foot into the courtroom and testify will help increase your confidence. You will continue to have an opportunity to practice as an expert witness and get more experience in the courtroom. And you will keep track of your experience in the courtroom and add this to your curriculum vitae. Your CV is a work in progress. Add your deposition and courtroom experience to your curriculum vitae as the assignments are completed. This helps increase your integrity, experience, and perceived value to your prospects.
What does it mean to be under oath? When you walk into the courtroom and you raise your right hand and you solemnly swear to tell the truth, you will go to prison if you’re caught lying. Expert witnesses need to run from being perceived or even thinking about being a hired gun. Rather, be a scientist and stick to the facts. Perjury is nothing you want to get involved in. That is the scary aspect to what I think keeps scientists out of the courtroom. And, like I said earlier, you can certainly be a forensic expert without being an expert witness.
Preparation for Trial
Preparation for trial is extremely important. The biggest problem I have with preparing for trial is getting the attorney that I’m working with to understand its importance. I often have to demand a call with them prior to going into the courthouse. This call is neccesary to discuss their case expectations, my thoughts on the case, and overall strategy in court. I like to create questions that are based on my experience and expertise for the attorney to utilize like a script. They can then ask me direct examination questions while I am on the stand.
Preparation also involves anticipating cross examination questions. Those are questions that should be written and presented to your client attorney. These questions turn into direct examination questions. That being the case, you can deflate the opposing side or the prosecutor’s questions before they even have an opportunity to ask. A lot of times, those anticipated cross examination questions are the elephant in the room that you can get out immediately instead of waiting for later.
On the Stand
When on the stand, you need to pay careful attention to the questions being asked and you want to answer them in short sentences. Even if you have to answer a difficult question during cross examination, don’t ramble and spiral out of control. Answer questions directly and in short sentences. The attorney who is asking the questions, or the prosecutor, will probe if they want more information. Don’t offer more information randomly. Simply answer the question.
There are two aspects to your examination. First, the defense attorney that you’ve been retained by will begin by asking you questions to help reveal your work and the scientific observations that you have made. Second, there is the cross examination. The opposing side, also known as the prosecution in a criminal case, asks you questions to try to derail your train of thought and your opinions. They’re going to use trick questions to try to reduce your perceived value or integrity in the eyes of the jury. You need to stay calm and answer directly.
A Summary of Steps
So what does it take to be an expert witness? It takes a precise CV that explains your experience and expertise. It takes good forensic science and experience, which comes from training. An expert witness also needs courtroom experience and careful preparation for trial and testifying. You need to dress well, pay attention to the questions and answer directly, and you want to think about your examination experience as a two-part process. First, direct examination. Second, cross examination.
Over 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. In turn, this may change digital evidence as we know it.
Mobile Video Evidence in Mississippi
The mobile 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 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 it to catch fire. She and her children appear trapped as the flames grow in size.
Suddenly, a truck driver approaches from behind the scene of the accident. He pulls the family from the burning car just before it explodes. Had the truck driver appeared 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 camera recording the entire incident. This heroic act became a huge story and would have gone unrecognized by the public without the mobile video technology of this generation.
Mobile Video Evidence in Ferguson
However, the documentation of heroic stories like this is only the beginning. The spread of mobile video devices to every pocket, purse, and vehicle has widespread positive effects. 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. He 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. 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. Not to mention, 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, the officer was suspended. The Ferguson Police Department saw the events exactly as they transpired and his guilt was indisputable. This, in itself, is revolutionary, and is an indication of how much power mobile video evidence can have in the courtroom.
The Power of Mobile Video evidence in Court
A clear representation of events is the most indisputable evidence available. It allows the jury, officials, and lawyers to witness events with their own eyes and ears. Other forms of evidence can be easily disputed, but allowing the court to experience the event for themselves is the most effective method of presenting evidence. It is even more reliable than an eyewitness account.
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 experiencing actual issues and circumstances 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 or the stats. It focuses on those who are so passionate about this cause that they would fight, risk arrest, or even die for it.
In sum, the mobile video revolution is critical to the justice system. The best way to reap its benefits is to remain aware of its power. If you experience anything unlawful, always remember that the device 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 it is a privilege we can’t ignore. Above all, these developments could completely change the face of digital forensic evidence forever.
Video evidence is the most accurate representation of the events as they naturally occurred. In fact, surveillance videos today are more accurate than eye witness testimony alone. Once surveillance video has been properly authenticated and the source of the chain of custody has been presented, they are ready for court. In the following blog post, 5 Tips for Preparing Digital Video Evidence for Court, video forensic expert will teach its readers about the 5 major lessons our experts have learned and want to share with you about preparing your surveillance videos for use in court.
5 Tips for preparing digital video evidence for court
Tip #1: Chain of Custody
Chain of custody is perhaps the most important tip from this post. Document and maintain a chain of custody on your video evidence. A lack of an authentic chain of custody can cause the court to question the integrity of the surveillance videos and its admissibility. Lack of a proper chain of custody reduces the credibility of your video evidence.
For example, I currently have a case in house that includes a smart phone recording being used as video evidence. We preserved the video recordings on the smart phone. Why? It is crucial to our investigation. There is plenty of storage space available on the phone. Of course, I established and documented the chain of custody when I downloaded the phone in my lab.
If it’s important, why were the video recordings not protected from creation? If the video events depict a crime being committed and will be admissible in court, it is also important to maintain the chain of custody for authentication purposes. Verification and establishment of the chain of custody visually and digitally is necessary for forensic authentication analysis investigations down the line.
Tip #2: When possible, use the original video recording.
As a rule of thumb, always present the original digital video recording, not a copy. Copies of digital video recordings can be misrepresented if there is not an authentic chain of custody. Digital compression from copying and converting recordings affects the authenticity of the events as they occurred. In addition, improper copying affects the digital information used to determine the circumstances around a recording’s creation.
Sometimes, the surveillance videos may need clarification or enhancement. In this case, the original recording has undergone changes. Once the video enhancement process has been completed accurately, the derivative video work product is properly authenticated as an original representation of the events. A document describing the enhancement process completed by a trained professional, such as a video forensic expert, completes the process.
If you are uncertain if you have the original or if you believe you have an altered copy, seek guidance from a qualified and trained professional. Forensic experts authenticate digital video recordings scientifically and present a report of the digital integrity of the digital video file. Our experts provide a pro bono consultation to all clients.
Tip #3: Prepare your playback software for courtroom use.
As a rule of thumb, always prepare playing your video recordings before entering the court room. Make sure your video evidence is compatible for easy playback in court. Many of our clients at Primeau Forensics will give us a digital video recordings created on a closed circuit television surveillance system. Attorneys will often times enter a court room with a video requiring a proprietary player that will not open quickly. This keeps the trier of fact waiting for long periods of time, causing confusion and frustration.
When I enhance a video recording for courtroom use, I always export the video recording from my forensic software using a file extension that is easier to open than some of the clunky proprietary players that CCTV systems rely on for recording playback.
Before expert witness testimony, I always prep with my clients on the phone and in person. We use prep time to double and triple check our exhibits, some of which are demonstrative.
Tip #4: Prepare your playback equipment for sight as well as sound.
Will the jury be able to hear the audio clearly? Do you need a speaker or amplifier system to make the audio louder for everyone in court to hear? I commonly bring a suitcase of one or two playback equipment options to present all video properly.
Many courts that I have testified in have video playback equipment. Some of the video equipment that the court provides may not be a high enough quality higher resolution playback. Also, older systems may not be bright enough for the trier of fact to preview from. Double check with the court before hand to determine what playback technology they have available. Bring in any equipment necessary or outsource a company to do so, so the trier of fact can easily see and hear your video recording. If you have to rent equipment, make sure it arrives well in advance of the trial.
Before litigation, I am required to install proprietary courtroom viewing applications on my computer. The app completely messed up my computer. Because this was during prep time, I was able to undo the app and make other arrangements to play the video recordings. These kinds of errors are catastrophic for testimony, as well as your integrity and professionalism as an expert. Playback errors are better handled outside of the courtroom.
Tip #5: Bring enough copies for everyone.
Do you have copies of your video evidence for everyone involved in the litigation? Remember, you have to put an evidence/exhibit sticker on your digital video evidence. DVD exhibits have space to apply stickers on the label side of the DVD. USB drives are difficult to put evidence stickers on, but are growing in popularity as digital file size increases. When I present a USB drive, I place it in a small plastic evidence bag that looks like this:
Evidence and exhibit stickers and information can be placed on the bag itself.
These are the top 5 tips for presenting digital video evidence for court. If you have any questions about video recordings used in litigation as evidence, contact us.
Giving the VIEVU LE2 my highest recommendation is easy. It is, without a doubt, the best wearable personal surveillance camera I have encountered in 25+ years as a video forensics investigator. Developed by police for police, this unit gets it all right; size, shape, weight, operation, picture quality, sound quality, date & time stamp, capacity, convenient downloading, storage, management, and digital signature security.
Advantages to Video Recordings
Obtaining a video recording of events at a traffic stop, pedestrian stop, crime scene, or call for assistance is most important. A video that captures the point of view of the officer is invaluable as a record of all an officer’s activities. Not only does it protect officers and citizens, but it holds all parties accountable. Videos are also introduced as an evidentiary recording in a court of law. Put simply, having some kind of recording is always better than having no recording at all. I would choose the VIEVU over a fixed vehicle cam or handheld camcorder every time. Unobtrusive, reliable, and easy to operate, I look forward to the time when every police officer in the country wears a VIEVU.
Challenges of Video Recordings as an Expert Witness
Testifying as an expert witness, I’m most often challenged by the opposition attorneys in the chain of custody and findings. Years of experience lend confidence in my analysis of the evidentiary video recording. Issues arising from authenticity and chain of custody are more challenging.
I am not always the person who retrieves the recording. That means that I must rely upon the record-keeping of others to establish an unbroken chain of custody, a paper or digital trail that accounts for every individual who had the recording in his or her possession up until I receive it and thereafter.
VIEVU solves this problem with its VERIPATROL VidLock Security Suite. The software utilizes a FIPS 140-2 (Federal Information Processing Standard) compliant digital signature, which guarantees the recording’s authenticity and integrity. This cryptographic standard ensures the authorship of the recording and that it remains unedited.
The LE2 records at 640 x 480, standard definition, but with an important difference. Under forensic examination, most standard definition video is actually 640 x 240, because each frame of video is made up of two fields. With standard, interlaced scanning, the odd vertical lines record before the even lines, which produces a visible lag when viewing the full-frame. The LE2 employs progressive scanning, in which all 480 lines record simultaneously, producing superior vertical resolution. 30 ips (Images Per Second) is always preferable to 30 fps (Frames Per Second).
This makes my job easier when performing forensic video analysis. Digital footage captured at 640 x 480p strikes a good balance between file size and resolution. Since most conversations occur at a distance of six feet or less, officers wearing a VIEVU record an ideal, detailed field of view, thanks to the unit’s well-chosen, 71 wide-angle lens.
I use the LE2 to document evidence retrieval in the field. The camera works perfectly, providing a time-stamped video record of the DVR I’m working on and its location. And I’m looking forward to receiving the company’s newest upgrade, the hi-def LE3.
For more info on VIEVU and their products, check out CEO Ed Primeau’s interview with VIEVU CEO Steve Ward here!
The importance of proper video evidence recovery is clear to those of us involved in forensic video enhancement. During the process of video evidence recovery, we make sure the highest quality video recording is properly saved for court use. Video forensic experts receive extensive training in video evidence recovery.
As a forensic expert, I have worked on many cases involving digital video recordings admitted into evidence in court. Much of our work with these recordings involves video enhancement, which allows the trier of fact to better see events as they occurred. Often times, video surveillance systems or smartphones record the digital evidence in question. We properly remove recordings from both mobile and stationary surveillance systems for forensic enhancement.
Stationary surveillance systems record video at locations such as convenience stores, banks, and other businesses or institutions. Buses, trains and other types of public transportation utilize mobile surveillance systems.
Evidence Recovery Importance
There are three main factors we would like to mention regarding the reason for proper evidence recovery. First, when we retrieve recorded video evidence, we create a video recording of our process. This establishes an indisputable chain of custody. It also demonstrates for those who were not present the process and procedure we used. We take special precautions during the retrieval process to make sure we leave with at least one version of the recording. Additionally, we leave with the recorded video evidence for future forensic enhancement and authentication as necessary.
We retrieve the recording so as to minimize any degradation of quality. When a lawsuit depends on the analysis of a surveillance video, it is important not to leave evidence retrieval to an untrained security guard.
We research the operator’s manual and connect with tech support from the surveillance company before traveling to perform evidence recovery. While on site, we also examine the administrative log and determine additional forensic information for the chain of custody.
Video Evidence Recovery Best Practices
An excellent manual for retrieval of electronic evidence developed jointly by the federal government’s inter-agency Technical Support Working Group, the FBI Forensic Audio, Video, and Image Analysis Unit, and law enforcement agencies from around the world. Entitled Best Practices for the Retrieval of Video Evidence from Digital CCTV Systems, it contains an authoritative (if somewhat dated) overview of the topic and covers many of the protocols we have adopted at Primeau Forensics.
Before digital audio and video recorders, retrieving a tape-based analogue recording was fairly straightforward. Recordings were made to tape cassettes, which were stored in climate-controlled conditions. Evidence retrieval was as simple as picking up the original cassette recording. Digital video recorders (DVRs), however, do not record to easily portable cassettes. Rather, they record to the kind of hard disk drives found in computers. These internal hard drives are not portable, making evidence retrieval more difficult. Whether we take the DVR or its internal drive with me or make a lossless copy of its contents, I always follow anti-static procedures and carry all media in specially shielded cases.
Proprietary vs Open Source Video
All surveillance and standard digital video uses a specific compression/decompression scheme or codec to record. The compressed file’s storage structure determines its format. It is not uncommon for surveillance DVRs to use proprietary formats, allowing playback only through the original recording DVR. Some DVRs can re-compress the original proprietary format file, trans-coding it into a non-proprietary format for easy playback. However, these more accessible files often contain lower quality video and audio. When we retrieve these digital video files, we study the DVR’s operating manual to find the best way to make a high quality copy that retains all data and metadata. By minimizing or eliminating the degradation that can accompany translating the file from one format to another, we ensure that our lab analysis is based on the best video recording available.
This is a blog post that will help the reader better understand how to recover video.Read More