Just this week, one of our clients got a victory on a civil case, stemming from the “Occupy Los Angeles” movement on July 12, 2012, and due to so much press attention at this Occupy LA protest, there were dozens of video, audio, web pages, and still images which captured aspects of evidence in this case. Finding, enhancing, and syncing the video evidence kept us working diligently. The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a complete defense verdict. According to the defense attorney, the victory was in large part due to the extensive audio and video research, analysis, and enhancement work contributed by NCAVF. The attorney also said that before this case he had never fully realized how important it was to have a complete understanding and familiarity with the video evidence. The attorney noted it was this familiarity with the video evidence in court that was his lynchpin to winning the case.
So then how do attorney’s develop a complete understanding and familiarity with the video evidence? First, it is important to examine a problem we see all too often. In an attorney’s day to day bombardment of handling multiple cases, we’ve seen attorneys developing tunnel-vision — looking at only one approach to their case. This is especially true when evaluating audio or video evidence. When we receive surveillance video evidence from an attorney or client, we are often given specific instructions by the attorney handling the case. For instance we are asked to get a clear face picture of the suspect in the video. Seeing the face of the suspect can certainly be important, but there are often other details, just as important, frequently overlooked by attorneys such as:
- Metadata on the video (date/time stamping)
- How it was recorded
- Types of cameras and lenses used
- Are there possibly better resolutions available
- Are there other angles or sources available
As video forensics experts, we’re trained to look outside the box, at the periphery: what was going on minutes or even hours before or after the suspect appears in the video? What is in the suspect’s hands? How did those items get into his hands? Where was the suspect looking or walking just before, during, or after the incident? The answers can be crucial for a case.
In the civil case we just helped win, our client, the defendant’s attorney, told us that developing his familiarity with the video evidence was staggeringly important for helping the jury understand the facts of the case. The attorney remarked that developing this familiarity enabled him to point out the most important aspects of the video to the jury. Using this knowledge, he was also able to refute claims made by the opposing counsel’s witnesses.
Another aspect often overlooked by attorneys is the scope of modern digital software forensic capabilities. Our sophisticated 3D rendering software allows us to use photogrammetry to determine the height of a suspect captured on surveillance footage. Such a determination can be invaluable if the height of the suspect on the video and the height of the accused are not the same.
An additional forensic technique that is often unknown to attorneys, but used frequently by NCAVF in cases, is synchronization. This is the practice of taking multiple camera angles and audio recordings of the same event and creating a single playable video, giving a viewer a unified, synchronized, and clear piece of evidence. The jury is then able to see a complete picture of what is happening.
For instance, camera 1 may be a wide street view of an incident from a surveillance camera set up by the city. Camera 2, recorded from a local business, shows a clear view of a suspect as he walks on the sidewalk. Camera 3, from the security camera of another business, might show the suspect looking around suspiciously. The city’s wide view camera will show the general movements of the suspect, and the closer cameras make details apparent. Showing video and audio evidence in synchronization, a jury can be shown all the video evidence in a concise and compelling way that unifies the case and keeps their attention.
The advances in the high quality recording of security surveillance video evidence has allowed us to investigate alleged crimes and determine the sequence of events for incidents in ways that were not possible a few years ago. Analyzing, enhancing, and understanding video and audio evidence effectively, however, means knowing what to look for and what techniques are going to be the most advantageous for a particular case.