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Admission of Cell Phone Videos in Criminal Cases

It’s become very commonplace for people to whip out their phones and start filming interesting things. A crime taking place indeed falls into the category of “interesting things,” spurring anyone, young or old, to take video of events unfolding. They do it for many reasons: as evidence if they or their friend is involved, or to post on social media, or to send to news outlets.
If you are in the process of witnessing a crime, it’s understandable you may want to take video of the event, especially if it directly involves you or a family member or friend. The resulting video will allow you to review the situation later, and possibly use it to clear your name of possible wrongdoing. The use of a cell phone video as evidence in court is possible; however, the evidence gleaned from it may not always be admissible.
If you want to use cell phone evidence in your criminal case, your attorney must convince the judge that the video footage is relevant to your case and reliable.

Relevancy

In order for such evidence to be allowed in court, it has to be considered relevant to your case. Something that has been deemed relevant will play an important role in your trial, possibly clearing you and leading to an acquittal. Pieces of evidence that have been deemed irrelevant not only waste time, but could distract the jury from an integral part of the case.

Authenticity

When you introduce evidence into court, it has to be authentic. Demonstrative evidence like a video can’t just come out of thin air. It must be introduced by someone who is willing to testify in court as to the legitimacy of the video they took. Video captured via traffic cameras is more legitimate than cell phone video taken by a criminal defendant whose sole goal is to win his or her case.
If it is impossible to find the video’s source, its authenticity is poor. This means it could be excluded under Rhode Island’s hearsay rules.

Credibility

A big problem with cell phone videos points to the issue of credibility. When you present a video as evidence, you are essentially attempting to convince the court that a specific event happened, and the video must be able to tell the story of events without guesswork. Problems with cell phone video may include:

  • Lighting: If the lighting is poor, it may be hard to make out certain features of the video, such as the distance between two objects or the identity of a person.
  • Time of recording: Timing is everything. Your video may portray something that should have happened at a certain time, but the video can’t prove it.
  • Location: If there is too much guesswork involved in determining where the video was filmed, or if it requires taking your word over others for the details, the video doesn’t offer anything more than your spoken testimony.

Many people feel that video is the ideal evidence to make or break a case. Often times, yes, this is correct. But just as often, it isn’t. It actually may introduce more questions and problems. Just remember that there is no guarantee the judge will allow cell phone video evidence.

Contact Sayer Regan & Thayer

With years of trial experience, our attorneys understand Rhode Island’s evidence rules, successfully using them to help our clients when possible. To learn more about the admission of cell phone videos in criminal cases and how we can help you, please contact us for your free initial consultation.


These materials have been prepared by SRT for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

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