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Challenges when dealing with video surveillance footage as evidence in court




A crucial tool for preparing court cases and solving crimes is video surveillance footage. The abundance of cameras everywhere makes this type of digital evidence increasingly common on trial. Nevertheless, poor extraction techniques, privacy concerns, and other technicalities can lead to the dismissal of this important piece of data.

Digital evidence is information and data of value to an investigation that is stored on, received, or transmitted by an electronic device. As video cameras become a necessity for public and private organizations, the adequate collecting and processing of video footage is key for the criminal justice system. In fact, digital forensics are central to case closure and fair prosecutions.

Extraction techniques

Manual methods do not require specialized tools, but sufficient labor and effort. Searching for a specific event in a videotape can take hours when done manually. In addition, it can lead to human errors, oversights, and unreliabilities.

Video analytics can support the process of extraction since it can search quickly and accurately for objects, events, or images. A sophisticated video analytics platform can help authorities finish forensic investigations in minutes and with fewer human and time resources.

To submit video from one or more events as evidence to the court, the particular original video file must be downloaded, coupled with the metadata.json file. The latter has the information required to prove that the video has not been altered.

Admissibility issues

There are common ways in which video evidence can be deemed inadmissible during the trial:

    1. Search and seizure

      Protection against unreasonable search and seizure by the government is dictated by the 4th amendment. Therefore, if the video footage is not properly obtained, it will be inadmissible in the courtroom.

      To legitimately obtain video surveillance data and use it as direct evidence in a criminal prosecution, without violating 4th amendment rights, there needs to be a warrant.

    2. Chain of custody

      A rigorous chain of custody assures that digital evidence has been preserved in its original form. Naturally, it includes proper documentation of how the video evidence is stored, who has handled the evidence, and who has had access to it.

    3. Timestamp errors

      Obsolete video surveillance systems can lead to inaccuracies, such as incorrect timestamps. This can severely ruin the integrity of the video evidence, as all it takes is reasonable doubt to overturn what could be a potentially strong case. Hence, it is critical that modern and reliable video surveillance systems are adopted to avoid inadmissibility issues in the future.

Mistakes in the collection, handling, and utilization of video evidence can have serious implications and contribute to difficult challenges for criminal investigations. It is important to avoid inadmissibility in court by following best practices and implementing best-in-class video surveillance and video analytics solutions.