The majority of the trials the firm has handled in the last few years have involved some sort of video evidence. These days, there are cameras everywhere to capture events and record crimes, either cell phones in the hands of bystanders (think about the George Floyd case) or surveillance video from security cameras positioned around homes, businesses and other buildings (think about the Ahmaud Arbery case). These cameras may capture a charged crime and be primary evidence for the prosecution. This can be very powerful evidence. What we have been noticing is that the emotional impact of that video on the jury can have a big effect on the course of a trial. Sometimes that emotional impact is helpful for the defense and sometimes it is harmful to the defense. That impact of video evidence is something that has to be dealt with early and often in a criminal trial, starting with voir dire and continuing through, all stages of the trial because as a society, we are so accustomed to relying on video for so many aspects of our life: news, socializing, entertainment, etc.
But before you even get to trial, there are many things the defense attorney needs to do to be prepared for video evidence. First, the video produced by the prosecution may not be the only video out there so it is critical that you hire a lawyer who will immediately try to identify and preserve other video that may be available. Surveillance video systems often overwrite themselves periodically so you have to act quickly to find and get it copied. Second, the video produced by law enforcement may not tell the whole story about what went on so it is critical that you hire a lawyer who will immediately find and interview witnesses who can help to round out the story of what happened beyond what is captured on video. Third, it is important in some cases that the video be carefully analyzed and potentially enhanced (by experts) so that it is not misleading – sometimes a closer look can show that there is more to the story depicted on the than meets the eye the first time you look at it.
These are just some observations about the types of video evidence that might come into play in a criminal case and ways to handle it. There are many other types of video evidence that also come into play – body cameras, dash cameras and recorded police interviews are also common. But the key to dealing with video evidence of any kind is understanding that it will have a big impact and making sure to hire a lawyer that will take the necessary steps to blunt, or enhance, its impact.
Call Willey & Chamberlain for help.
Watch Britt’s video blog here.