Making CCTV evidence compelling in court

 

Ian Rogers

Ian Rogers

Ian Rogers, a CCTV analysis expert, has 16 years’ experience dealing with video evidence, including ten years with the British Transport Police. In this Q&A blog, he shares his thoughts and observations on how best to engage the jury while presenting robust and compelling evidence. Please feel free to contact Ian with your thoughts at info@ccl-forensics.com.

Q: Quite simply, to begin with: what makes a good court presentation?

A: Where CCTV evidence is concerned, the old cliché of “a picture paints a thousand words” has never been more true. The footage you show, and the way you show it, has to be “impactive” and look professional.

The first hurdle to overcome is to manage the jury’s expectations of what they’re going to see. Far too often, thanks to films and TV programmes, people expect to see something of a better quality than even the most professional expert can produce. I call it the “CSI factor”, as popular crime dramas tend to overplay the type of evidence that can be produced. Generally, even with the sort of advanced enhancement we can carry out, the images tend to be of a much poorer quality than many jury members expect.

The “CSI factor” also raises the jury’s expectation of the technology and equipment which will be used to display the evidence. If you are an OIC (officer in charge) presenting some really pivotal CCTV evidence, first ensure that the equipment does it justice. An old, slightly fuzzy TV is not the way to present a high-impact visual presentation. My top tip here is to make sure you know, well in advance, what will be available in court on the day, to allow you to show your footage. If you’re not happy, this will give you sufficient time to source alternative, more appropriate, equipment.

Q: So, once you’ve got the technology sorted – what about the content of the presentation itself? What makes a professional presentation?

A: One of the first points is to ensure that the work is carried out by someone technically proficient to do so. Secondly it’s imperative that professional, industry standard hardware and software is used to produce the presentation. Always resist cutting corners by giving footage to “that bloke down the corridor” who’s done a bit of home video editing, and has some basic software on his PC. The risk is that it’ll not only look unprofessional, but that the quality of the footage could be degraded and its evidential integrity compromised, particularly if they’re not conversant with the various file and compression formats.

On top of this, the jury may well be able to distinguish between a home-spun presentation and a professional version produced using broadcast-quality equipment. You need to maintain your credibility in front of the jury – and one lacklustre CCTV presentation could go some way to compromising that. Given the pressurised nature of the court environment, a professional DVD presentation with chapters and menus (where there are multiple pieces of footage) not only looks better to the jury, but also reduces the need for the OIC to fumble around finding the relevant piece of content. Credibility is maintained, and the jury have their expectations met.

Q: What about the actual content of the presentation? If you’ve got lots of relevant clips, how do you best plan what you’re going to show and how you’re going to show it?

A: This is where working with your CCTV expert is crucial. Liaise closely with your CCTV analyst to ensure that you have identified the most important parts of the raw footage, and produce an edit list if necessary. Look at how any appropriate enhancement techniques can be employed to improve its clarity. Discuss whether still images can be produced, which emphasise elements of the case, and whether highlighting or annotating the footage would make things clearer and more impactive.

Also, ensure that the menu structure and chapter points (where relevant) are created with you in mind, so you can easily find any part of the footage again if you need to.

Generally, the way to focus a jury’s attention on what is relevant is to use short, well-edited sequences with highlighting, slow-motion, enlargement and enhancement where most applicable. Don’t overuse these features – it only serves as a distraction.

When you’re actually presenting this, think of it as a visual storyboard; and the better you know the content, the more seamlessly you can weave it into the evidence you give in the dock. It goes without saying that practising the presentation will make it natural and intuitive – it’s very often the case that an unrehearsed presentation stands out a mile.

Q: When enhancement has been carried out, and you’re showing something that has been improved from the original, what is the best way of conveying this to the jury?

A: Simply, show them both versions wherever possible, but also explain why the enhancement has been carried out. It’s useful for the OIC to have a broad understanding of what enhancement has been done – just in case of any questions, but enhancement (if done by an experienced professional) is generally accepted in court as admissible evidence. It’s important here to also show if necessary that there is an effective audit trail as to what has been done, by whom and how.

I’m always happy to talk CCTV with anyone with a mutual interest, so please feel free to contact me at info@ccl-forensics.com or on 01789 261200.

Ian Rogers

CCTV Analysis Expert

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