Surveillance Video- When It Comes In and When It Doesn’t

Video evidence authentication has received a fair amount of treatment on this blog. The topic remains an area of practical significance given the prevalence of video evidence in criminal trials and how common it is for the prosecution’s case to hinge on the admission of video. We are increasingly a video-focused society. Between home security cam, doorbell cam, body-worn cam, in-car cam, pole cam, and even parking lot cam, juries increasingly expect to see video, whether the incident in question occurred outside a home, near a business, or on the roadside.

In this post, I will focus on surveillance video.

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New Video Tech, Same Old Rules

My colleagues and predecessors here at the School of Government have written about video evidence many times over the years, summarizing the basic rules and significant cases in posts available here, here, here, here, and here.

Recently, though, I’ve been getting questions about a relatively new but increasingly common type of video evidence: high-tech, app-controlled, and remotely stored videos taken by automated devices ranging from doorbell cameras to wifi-enabled, cloud-connected, teddy bear spy cams. Do the old rules still work the same way for these new video tools? Is it substantive or illustrative evidence? If it’s substantive, how is it authenticated? Is a lay witness qualified to testify about how these cameras work? Does the proponent need the original video? Come to think of it, what is the “original” of a video that exists only as bits of data floating somewhere in the cloud…?

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State Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeals Regarding Authentication of Surveillance Video

The Supreme Court of North Carolina just decided State v. Snead, a case about the authentication of surveillance video. The court adopted a more relaxed approach to authentication than the court of appeals had taken. Because the authentication of video is an increasingly common issue, it is worth digging into the case.

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