Last week an article in The Assembly, The Shooter in the Video, came across my virtual desk. The article focused on the case of James Richardson, who was convicted of murder in Pitt County in 2011, and the work of his family, supporters and his post-conviction attorney Heather Rattelade to overturn his conviction.
A key piece of evidence at trial was a video of the drive-by shooting. In her post-conviction investigation, Rattelade uncovered a State Bureau of Investigation lab report and communication log showing that the video evidence received by the lab was not in its original format and contained compression artifacts that reduced image quality.
Video evidence is so prevalent in current cases, from surveillance cameras, body worn cameras, dash cams, and other cameras that I wanted to figure out how attorneys can determine if the version of the video they have been provided is the original/best-quality format or is a lower-quality copy.
Collecting video from a digital video recorder (DVR) is different from collecting video from a phone or the cloud because a DVR has a hard drive. Data from a digital video recorder, like a security system, must be “exported” to be provided to law enforcement. A digital forensics examiner or law enforcement officer with training in exporting this evidence should perform the export to ensure that the highest quality version is exported. Attorneys can find out the make and model of the recording device and get the device’s manual. The manual will explain what the highest quality export setting is. Typically, if the video is exported as a .avi file, this means no compression and highest quality. If the file has another format, like .mp4, that is a compressed file type and could be lower quality than the original.
Attorneys should consult with an expert if they are uncertain whether the video evidence they have been provided is in the highest quality format available and to discuss the possibility of enhancing the video for additional clarity. IDS has information about available experts here.
The State Crime Lab’s procedures for digital evidence provide information about how this evidence is processed in that lab. Attorneys can read the Technical Procedure for DVR Analysis to understand how a video is exported and the Technical Procedure for Video Enhancement to learn more about options for enhancing the clarity of a video. Additional digital forensics procedures are available here.
Thank you to Lars Daniel of Envista Forensics for his help with this post. Envista has information about collecting and protecting digital video evidence here on p. 16.