Evidence in civil and criminal trials includes audio, video, and digital images, where the interpretation of the evidence often becomes a matter of expert opinion. When opposing counsel discloses or otherwise presents expert testimony or reports on video evidence, inquire into the expert’s qualifications and get the help of a video forensic expert to determine if their statements are based on widely accepted methodology with a scientific foundation.
In this post, I discuss whether an expert is qualified to interpret video recording evidence. In another post, I examine whether an expert’s opinion of video recording evidence lacks rigor and a scientific foundation.
Video experts often generate non-scientific opinions based on observation and subjective methodology. First, ask whether the expert’s education and training enable them to make certain determinations. Then look at the expert’s experience in applying what they know.
Video Forensic Expert Education
To scrutinize a video forensic expert’s education, look to industry standards for educating and training video and image analysts. The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) provides training guidelines and recommendations to assist organizations in designing educational training programs for forensic video and image analysts. The SWGDE training guidelines ensure that analysts are competent in completing forensic tasks and analyses. If an expert’s education and training incorporate SWGDE topics, they have a basic knowledge of audio-visual forensics to assist a judge or jury in interpreting and understanding video evidence.
At base, a video expert witness must aid the judge or jury understand video or image evidence and help them make factual determinations and conclusions. While experts can offer their opinion based on their experience or expertise, they cannot draw legal conclusions.
A video expert must have a baseline education and possess a diploma, degree, or certificate from a secondary educational institution or technical school related to forensic video and image collection, preservation, recovery, examination, and analysis. Although education in a discipline related to forensic video and image analysis is necessary, it is not sufficient without adequate training.
A video forensic expert’s training should include only validated technologies and methods. It should provide a general knowledge of the major elements of video and image evidence, including the capabilities and limits of methods, hardware, and software. The training should include the skills to use specific tools and procedures competently.
An expert should have an understanding of video and image evidence procedures and the ability to apply that understanding in various scenarios to present clear and unbiased video and image evidence-based testimony in court. The expert should also be able to prepare accurate, clear, concise documentation of results or opinions with visual aids.
In forensic video analysis, several best practices exist to enhance and recover video recordings from the systems that created them. If an expert uses an improper approach or methodology, it can destroy the integrity of the digital evidence, rendering it inadmissible. Advanced methods include video authentication, video file repair, reverse projection, and videogrammetry, where the expert must set limits and expectations from the beginning and maintain them throughout the process.
Video experts specializing in one scientific discipline may attempt to offer opinions about a secondary domain without the necessary training and experience. They may also provide views without understanding the limitations of their methodology, stepping outside of their expertise. That is where a rebuttal audio-video expert, properly trained in a particular discipline like audio-video forensics, can assist. A rebuttal video expert on your team will help you keep an opposing expert’s opinion confined to their knowledge and experience.
Case in Point
Plaintiff’s counsel contacted Primeau Forensics to provide expert opinions on a video exhibit generated by an IT staff person employed by the counsel’s law firm. The exhibit sought to determine whether a vehicle was in motion before a collision captured by a surveillance camera from a neighboring business across the street. We advised counsel that we needed to complete a reverse projection or videogrammetry investigation, allowing us to extract measurements from digital recordings from overlays of 3D point clouds from a laser scanning device. Plaintiff’s counsel did not retain our services.
Defendant’s counsel contacted us to act as a rebuttal expert witness to counter the IT person’s testimony. Through a site inspection, we determined that the video captured had a low frame rate and a limited spatial resolution (quality), making it impossible to conclude the speed and position of the parties involved in the collision. As a rebuttal expert, we analyzed the collision video exhibit and discovered that the IT person’s methodology in generating the presentation was inaccurate and, in our opinion, objectionable. After deposing the IT person, the defendant’s counsel discovered that the IT person’s training in video forensics mostly consisted of YouTube videos.
Having a rebuttal expert witness on your team that can call out an opposing expert’s inadequate knowledge and training to assist a judge or jury can be crucial to your case. And if a rebuttal expert can offer credible opinions on video evidence based on a scientific foundation—outstanding. Don’t take our word for it. Watch that critical scene from My Cousin Vinny when the automotive defense expert provided factual proof that the prosecutor’s expert was incorrect.
If you have a case where you need an expert’s methodology or opinions evaluated, contact us for a free consultation with a video forensic expert.