The most common kind of evidence in a criminal trial is eyewitness testimony – the word of a person who saw the crime or who is the victim of the crime. They come into court, months after the crime happened, sometimes years after, and they get on the witness stand and are questioned about what they saw, heard, said, so long ago. Studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is not a very reliable source. This is because during an emotionally strained incident, such as during an attack, during a robbery, during a mugging, a person is in a state of shock. His or her ability to perceive things can be altered as a result. This is why hundreds of innocent people have been released from prisons because of DNA testing that showed they didn’t commit the crimes of which they were convicted – convictions that were typically the result of flawed eyewitness testimony. It’s not that the witnesses are lying…they just don’t accurately remember exactly what happened, how it happened, the sequence of events, or exactly what the perpetrator looked like.
Enter the videotape. Videos, unlike a witness’ memory, can’t be forgotten. A video doesn’t merely observe something and try to recollect it later. It records the images, and potentially also audio, to be viewed again and again. It is a very strong piece of evidence that jurors in a criminal prosecution love to see because ideally, jurors would love to have been there for the crime. They want to see with their own eyes exactly what happened.
Video evidence was once a thing that came up on a rare occasion. But that is no longer the case. This day and age, police cars are equipped with video cameras, police officers wear miniature microphones on their uniforms, business have video surveillance running 24 hours a day, there are cameras in ATMS, traffic lights, toll booths. Most of our lives outside of our homes seem to be caught on some kind of a camera these days. As a result, more and more investigations and more and more crimes are caught on video.
Take for instance a DUI offense. Once, it was up to a police officer who makes hundreds of DUI arrests every year to remember all of the facts and circumstances of that particular arrest and testify to that. Now, almost every DUI in Palm Beach County has a video of the entire roadside investigation, including the administration of field sobriety exercises, and sometimes even the person’s driving pattern, a view of why they were pulled over in the first place.
Another prime example is the assault of a bus driver in Lauderhill Lakes. A man on the bus hit the brakes and then punched the driver, allegedly trying to steal his cell phone. The entire incident was caught on the surveillance video inside the Broward County transit bus.