As 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 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 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 that 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 of 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 metadata is crucial as part of the investigation.
Forensic experts know that sending audio or video digital files electronically over the Internet can often strip metadata 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.