Posts Tagged ‘Video Forensic Expert’

Audio in Video Evidence

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Sound-analyse Audio in Video EvidenceWhen performing an audio and video authentication and analysis,a trained audio video forensic expert will utilize several methods in an attempt to detect an edit in a video recording that is used as evidence. Some of the time a critical ear can be just as important to a video forensic expert as the scientific community accepted software tools and an established chain of custody.

Though it is said that “A picture is worth a thousand words,” an audio file can be worth even more in a video forensic laboratory. A trained video forensic expert knows what to look for (or listen to) during a forensic video authentication and analysis investigation.

Many CCTV systems now have the capability to record audio, and this audio portion of the surveillance video recording can be crucial to the legitimacy of the digital video evidence. Audio is a great tool to investigate and detect an anomaly or edit when investigating a video recording. To do so there’s a process and protocol we follow at Primeau Forensics. 

Audio is comprised of “sound pressure waves,” which are waveform representative of the change in air pressure in a recording. One characteristic of sound pressure waves is that they are always smooth and continuous.

Let’s say, for example, you’re recording in an open, quiet room. While you’re recording, a rebellious teenager comes in the room and blows off his air-horn. Even though that loud sound completely changed the overall sound in the room, the wave that represents the pressure change will always be smooth and continuous.

The only time that a wave is not smooth and continuous is when an edit is made. Keeping this in mind will give you more of an idea of what you’re listening for.

When an edit is made to a recording, this disturbs the waveform. This makes it temporarily rigid and inconsistent. All sound pressure waves should be the opposite of that. So, when I am critically listening and hear a sound that is outside of that smooth, uninterrupted audio file, I know I have an anomaly that may be an edit.

How is that disturbance represented? Well, it will usually manifest itself in the form of a ‘pop’. In the context of video, it usually will only last a frame, but the sound will be there. If you hear anything that deviates from the already established waveform, you know that the evidence may have been edited.

Adobe and Izatope RX has software that allows a forensic experts to more accurately detect these edits. For example, a “spectrogram,” detects the “noise floor” in a recording. The spectrum recorded for a noise floor should be consistent in visual characteristics as long as nothing changes with the ambiance in a recording. When you see a deviation in that consistency, just as if you hear one in the dialogue, you can tell that the audio, and sub-sequentially the video, may have been altered.

There are many ways to detect edits visually when reviewing digital video evidence. Beginning with an established chain of custody and performing forensic video authentication and analysis will reveal integrity in your video recording or anomalies that reveal scientifically that the CCTV video recording may have been compromised and is unreliable.

Increase in Body Worn Cameras

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

le2-3 Increase in Body Worn CamerasIn the last few years, Primeau Forensics has seen an increase in cases that involve surveillance video including body camera video recordings. This digital video evidence is very important in order of investigators and the Trier of Fact to understand the events as they occurred.

Much of this activity began back in 2013 and helped locate and identify the Boston Marathon Bombers. FBI investigators had to cull through dozens if not hundreds of hours of CCTV video surveillance recordings in order to find and identify the terrorists that were eventually responsible for these acts of violence.

Lately, video as evidence is expanding to include body worn cameras that have been implemented into many police agencies across the United States. President Obama authorized funding for police agencies to purchase this equipment. Currently, there are numerous police agencies around the country that are testing different makes of body cameras and learning how to properly integrate them into their procedures. Many of these agencies have been transparent with their testing and have begun to approve further funding to outfit more officers with cameras.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan Police Department was recently testing two different kinds of body-worn cameras among eight different police officers, who presented their feedback on the camera systems online. The city has now approved the funding for two hundred officers to be outfitted with cameras. The Seattle, Washington Police Department has also been very open about their body camera testing, even releasing some of the footage online for the public to see. To maintain privacy, they blurred the video and removed the audio so no individuals could be identified. A large amount of the public has been pushing for police worn body cameras ever since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August.

The benefit of body worn cameras is that they protect everyone, police officers as well as citizens. Many police agencies are in full support of the cameras because they reduce the questioning of what happened during an altercation. If a disagreement is established against an officer, internal affairs will be able to check the body camera video and see the events as they occurred. Police agencies believe this will be very helpful with training officers and improving the relationship between the public and police.

The biggest issue arising from the increase of body worn cameras is the huge amount of data being created. Not only does this require a very large amount of storage space, but it must be stored securely so that the video evidence cannot be tampered with. Thankfully, many of the companies providing these body worn cameras also include proprietary software that ensures the evidence cannot be modified between the camera and the system. Access to the video will be limited to authorized personnel only to maintain the authenticity and safety of the video evidence.

As a Video Forensic Expert, I see many benefits to this increase in body worn cameras. I have worked on numerous cases in which evidence from a body worn camera greatly helped the investigation and proceeding trial. Police dash cameras have often been used as video evidence for investigations but they often do not show the entire altercation because of their stationary view. Police body worn cameras add a second perspective to be used along with the dash cam which can be invaluable to an investigation. Having the two angles of the event in question allows anyone involved in the case to get a better picture of what happened.

Of course all video recordings submitted as evidence in a civil or criminal litigation must have an established chain of custody that supports the events and provides integrity for the digital video evidence. We encourage you to review our series on How to Properly Record a Police Officer when adding Good Samaritan video recordings to an investigation.


Video Evidence – South Carolina Officer Shooting Unarmed Black Man

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

891495_84762078-300x202 Video Evidence – South Carolina Officer Shooting Unarmed Black ManA South Carolina police officer was arrested yesterday for the murder of an unarmed black man. This is all because of a video that surfaced of the North Charleston officer, Michael Slager, firing eight times at the unarmed man as the man fled in an open field.

According to police reports, the victim in question, 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, continued to flee after being hit by the officer’s stun gun. Police report that Mr. Scott had taken Officer Slager’s stun gun, which lead to a reasonable pursuit.

However, the video seems to show a different story. The stun gun is dropped, and after Mr. Scott is gunned down and the officer is seen dropping something next to the unarmed man. It is not clear as to what was dropped; however, some fear that this was planted on the man after his shooting, as police report that the officer’s taser was taken.

Whatever the case, the innocent bystander who recorded Good Samaritan video aided in this investigation. Not only did he take the responsibility to record the events, but he also utilized landscape mode on his cell phone to record the altercation. This provided additional digital video evidence for this investigation.

As you see in the first few seconds of the video, his shot in “portrait” orientation would not have accurately captured the events as they occurred. Mr. Scott would have run off screen, and we never would have seen this happen. However, because he shot the video in landscape mode, we’re able to see the shooting clearly.

Situations like this help reinforce the importance of the little devices in our pockets. Smartphone video can make or break a case like this, and we need to understand why it’s so crucial to utilize the tools we have when an unlawful event occurs. If it weren’t for this Good Samaritan, this story may have gone unseen and unnoticed. It really shows how important video can be.

You can watch the video below via the NY Times:


Boston Bombing and the Forensic Video Investigation

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

boston-1024x682 Boston Bombing and the Forensic Video InvestigationIt is very obvious that we are vulnerable to attacks with little or no advance warning as exhibited in the recent bombing in Boston during the marathon. There are so far reported 176 casualties; 17 critical; 3 fatalities. Now the daunting task of forensic video investigation must take place.

Part of the forensic investigation requires video forensic experts to review all city surveillance CCTV recordings to look for persons who may have contributed to this attack. Another forensic strategy is to gather smart phone video recordings and photographs from civilian spectators that were at the event.

The task of reviewing the surveillance digital video recordings is extremely labor intensive. I suspect there are dozens of municipal cameras that recorded events before, during, and after the bombs exploded in the surrounding areas. This activity is extremely important because if a suspect is discovered in the video, video forensic experts have tools available to help scientifically identify the suspect. We can measure height once we establish a scale of measurement for the video as well as clothing logos which also help in identification.

One central location should store all digital video recordings from the municipal CCTV system as well as individual civilian smart phones. The videos should be categorized by either geographic location or some other method of organization that allows easy reference and quick accessibility.

A few years back, the city of New York’s CCTV cameras caught images of a person who planted a bomb in a car in Time Square. That suspect was eventually apprehended and convicted because of the aid of the municipal CCTV video recordings that caught a glimpse of him walking away from the car.

As days progress with the Boston forensic investigation, expect video forensic experts to discover clues that will aid authorities with other forensic information and evidence to eventually apprehend those persons involved in this tragedy.

The Power of Digital Forensic Analysis and CCTV.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

CCTV_Authentication-768x1024 The Power of Digital Forensic Analysis and CCTV.

More and more video evidence is entering the courtroom today than ever before. Some of the reasons for the increase in video evidence include the number of smartphones and closed circuit television network systems (CCTV) today. It is a fact that we are vulnerable to being on a video recording anytime we are in public. Almost all retail locations, including convenience stores, banks and gas stations, as well as almost all major city streets have video recording 24|7.

Invasion of Privacy?

The argument of invasion of privacy is dwindling and CCTV systems are helping report events and give us the ability to view those events as they originally occurred when looking for the truth of the recorded events.

Video evidence must of course maintain a proper chain of custody and be authentic before it ever enters the courtroom. Proper handling of the video evidence is imperative. Original videos should always be kept safe in their native environment to avoid evidence spoliation accusations. A trained and qualified video forensic expert will help you understand all protocols for the handling of forensic evidence.

One of the advantages of video evidence is the ability to present the courtroom, judge and jury with the actual events, first hand, as they occurred.  These videos help settle litigation quicker than a case that has no video evidence at all. Take the example of a recent CCTV system that recorded an altercation in a laundry mat in Brooklyn, New York. In the video below, the events as they actually occurred can easily be viewed for the litigation process:

On the other side of the forensic lab, these videos taken of a meteor hit in Russia from a combination of smartphones and local CCTV cameras show first hand relocation and witnessing of a meteor as it hits earth, and the damage that occurred as a result:

I suspect that as homeowners, businesses and municipalities continue to install CCTV systems to help keep their property secure and protected from crime. An even higher amount of litigation cases will include video recordings. The ability to view an event in question as it originally occurred is valuable, as it will stand as much stronger evidence in the courtroom. It’s hard to put a price tag on the value of digital media and video forensic evidence.

Video Evidence in an Advanced Technology World

Friday, November 16th, 2012

technology-1024x593 Video Evidence in an Advanced Technology WorldWhen I receive a video recording that is evidence to be used in litigation there are several activities, as a video forensic expert, that I employ during the video investigation. First, watching the file in its entirety, viewing the contents of that video, is important for the forensic expert examination and investigation process to completely understand what has been recorded and is being presented to the court. Secondly, whether I’m working for the defense or the prosecution I must understand the charges and how this video evidence relates to the charges being brought, whether it’s a civil or criminal litigation.

Oftentimes, I discover sections of the video evidence that the prosecutor or attorney has not considered with regard to the relevance to the litigation. Not only do I follow orders and respect what I have been asked to do, such as brighten the video so that we can see better if it was shot at night, or zoom in to see if we can determine what type of vehicle that was that drove by, or determine if we can sharpen and enlarge that portion of the video so that we can identify who that person is that committed that crime. All of these processes need to be documented in my work product as a video forensic expert in order to present my final enhanced or clarified video evidence in court. Oftentimes I’m asked to authenticate a video file. As part of the defense’s due process their client will tell them they believe the police have altered a video file. In my nearly 30 years of practicing as a video forensic expert I’ve only seen a couple different applications of videos being altered. Sure, it’s possible – but it’s also very unlikely because, when you think about it, why would an officer of the law risk their career, reputation and retirement and alter a piece of evidence intentionally in order to convict. It’s not logical, and it doesn’t make sense … but I have seen it happen and it is possible. So the authentication process is probably one of the primary activities that I perform as a video forensic expert. And as I’m authenticating the evidence and I understand what the case is about I discover other components to the video that can help in the litigation process. That is part of what I do as a video forensic expert.

The tools that are available to the forensic community today are much more advanced and can perform faster and more accurately than the tools that were used even a couple of years ago. So cases that have been tried and are on appeal can use new evidence as part of the appeal process, because, in my opinion, being able to increase the brightness on a section of video more accurately, or enlarge it with less pixilation and more clear imaging we have created a piece of evidence that was not available during the original trial. So in that particular case a video forensic expert can help with the appeal process. And I have worked for several appellate attorneys over the years. There is an ever-increasing amount of video evidence that is appearing in litigation today and the demand for a video forensic expert to be able to authenticate, validate, clarify and present, as well as prepare demonstrative sections of that evidence is extremely important. By demonstrative, I mean to slow down and enlarge a section of video evidence in order to be able to more clearly and accurately see the events as they occurred. Plus, by adding this demonstrative element to the video evidence it allows the judge and jury to more accurately see what previously wasn’t seen on the video recording.

Cloud Storage for Evidence Sharing

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Cloud-Storage-1024x768 Cloud Storage for Evidence SharingAbout a week ago I was called by Wired Magazine and interviewed about cloud storage for evidence sharing. My first thought was that cloud storage is a great technological advance and is very convenient for the courts, police and lawyers who all need copies of audio and video forensic evidence.  Then I thought about the chain of custody problem.

I have found that courts and litigators still take audio and video evidence lightly depending on who is presenting the evidence. When authenticated by a forensic expert, audio and video evidence can be a very important tool in the court room.

I have experienced incredible turn around decisions when video evidence is shown in court to a jury.  Video is like bringing the scene of the crime into the court room.  Of course this works for both defense and prosecution in criminal cases as well as civil cases.

It is a hassle for some courts and police departments to authenticate audio and video forensic evidence as well as to maintain a chain of custody.  There is one big problem with cloud storage and audio and video evidence: maintaining a chain of custody of any evidence uploaded and downloaded to and from any type of cloud storage.

On the other hand, I can see benefits to having the evidence available 24|7 for all persons involved in the litigation. A formal procedure will have to be established in order to make cloud sharing of audio and video evidence available.

For example, if the prosecution and defense were each issued a user name and password, the cloud storage service could monitor access as well as maintain the integrity of the original audio or video evidence.  This would be fairly simple since most audio and video evidence is in digital form.

It all boils down to both sides agreeing on the identity of the original.  If the original is not disputed and can be shared and tracked in a cloud storage environment, then cloud sharing of audio and video evidence can work.  Once a dispute arises then the cloud storage environment will face forensic investigation to determine proper chain of custody.




photo credit: Dropbox via photopin (license)

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.

Appeal Cases on the Rise

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

952313_79933908-1024x685 Appeal Cases on the Rise

I have noticed lately that many Americans are being convicted of crimes that they are innocent of in the United States of America, instead of what is written in our constitution: when accused of a crime, we are guilty until proven innocent.

As a result, innocent people are imprisoned and appeal cases are at an all time high. As an audio and video forensic expert, I have experienced a growing percentage of case loads because of the appeal process; persons who have been convicted of a crime that they are innocent of. In these appeal cases, the audio and video forensic process is even
more important as the case continues in Appellant Courts.

The forensic process is similar in the appeal court, however; obtaining an original for forensic examination is hard, if not impossible. If the original is no longer available, the challenge is getting both the Court and the convicted to agree on the definition of what is available to serve as an original recording.

Once an original or working copy has been identified by both parties, it is the job of the forensic expert to help build the appeal case almost always using similar audio or video evidence that was used to convict. I often find that during the original trial, the audio and/or video evidence was not properly examined.

Some of the appeal cases I have worked on took place long after the original trial and included analogue audio or video evidence instead of digital. In fact, one case I am currently working on includes a VHS tape. It is interesting to me how a tangible VHS tape is sometimes available in some police investigations and other times not accessible. I find that few government agencies hold onto evidence long after a trial.

In the case where the original has been destroyed, the forensic expert has to rely on a copy to reveal any information to be used in the appeal case. Now the hurdle is to use forensic standards that are acceptable in the scientific community and apply those standards to a copy of the original evidence. This is where a great forensic expert can use all the tools available, both software and hardware, to help build the case.

Without the right software, hardware and experience, the forensic expert cannot properly determine the truths about audio and video evidence for the court.

Experienced forensic experts who have great credentials and understand appeal processes are worth the cost to retain. Expert witnesses help the court understand and interpret the evidence and any evidence anomalies so that the court can make an accurate decision on the case, civil, criminal or appeal.

This is often how the accused was convicted in the first place; lack of understanding by the court of the audio and/or video evidence. A complete understanding of the audio and/or video evidence causes even more restrain in the appeal process than the original trial.

For more information on how you can get a second opinion for the audio and video evidence in your case or the forensic process, call the provider of this article. Every case is unique and may benefit from forensic examination. The results are not always favorable but learning and understanding your evidence will help your lawyer know how to best lead you into the appeal process.

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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