Admission of Videotape Evidence in a Criminal Trial
Video-cameras are everywhere: inside buildings, on street corners and intersections, and (according to a recent blog and related article), even on roaming police vehicles. It is a constant feature in many investigations such as investigations for DUI crimes, burglary crimes, and any crime committed in a public area in which video cameras are present. But just because a crime is caught on tape does not necessarily mean that the tape is automatically admissible at trial. A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to have otherwise-incriminating video evidence excluded from your trial if there are not sufficient assurances that the video is accurate.
Admission of Videos With Witness Corroboration
How a video gets admitted into evidence in your trial will depend in large part on whether there is a witness who can attest to the accuracy and veracity of what is depicted in the video. Where there is independent eyewitness testimony about what was recorded by the video camera, the witness need only be able to review the video camera footage, identify the people, place, and happenings contained in the footage, and declare that the images depicted in the footage are true and accurate representations of the events that the witness remembers seeing. Any other issue – whether the witness used the video to refresh his own testimony or change it, whether the camera was operating properly that day, or whether the camera was powerful enough to observe small details like facial features – are all issues that affect the weight the jury should give to the video evidence.
Admission of Videos Without Witness Corroboration
When there is no independent witness to corroborate what is observed on the video footage, the prosecution’s task of admitting this footage into evidence becomes more difficult. Here the prosecution must usually subpoena the individual responsible for maintaining the camera unit and servicing it when it becomes broken. This individual will need to provide sufficient testimony about how the video system works, where the footage is recorded to, who maintains the footage and has access to the footage, how long the footage is stored, and other such information before the video will be admissible.
The reason for this difference comes down to authenticity. Where there is a witness who observed what the video footage captured, the witness acts in an authenticating role and provides assurances to the court that the footage shown on the camera was not tampered with or altered before being offered to the court. Where there is no independent eyewitness testimony that can corroborate the contents of the video footage, the court must receive its assurances through testimony that the camera appeared to be working on the date in question, and that there were no obvious signs of tampering or foul play. The jury still has the discretion to give the video as much or as little weight as it so chooses.
Jeffrey S. Weiner is a knowledgeable and aggressive Florida criminal defense attorney familiar with evidentiary rules and standards. He fights to ensure his clients are given a fair trial and not convicted on flimsy evidence that cannot be verified or properly tested. Contact his office for assistance with your criminal case by either contacting him through his website or calling (305) 670-9919.