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What is Video Evidence?

By Erica Stratton
Updated: May 16, 2024

Video evidence is any form of video used as admissible evidence in a court of law. It can be recorded on video home system (VHS) or in digital format. There has been a rise in using both types of video as evidence in court cases. This has led to debates on its proper use.

Video evidence can come in many different formats. Most often, the VHS video footage from a security camera is used as evidence of a crime in a public place. There has also been a rise of using video caught on digital cameras as evidence during court trials. With the rise of handheld video devices, amateurs who found themselves unintentionally at the scene of a crime can capture what happened on phones, digital cameras or laptop computers. Sometimes these videos end up on public sites.

In order to be admissible in a court of law, video evidence has to undergo a strict handling procedure. The name of whoever handles the evidence is cataloged, and the video is stored in a climate-controlled place—this is to ensure that it is not altered in any way. If the handling procedure is not followed, the video tape can be considered inadmissible evidence, even if it is relevant to the case.

The images taken by a security camera or mobile phone are often grainy. This makes it difficult for firm conclusions to be drawn from the evidence on the video tape. In response to this problem, video evidence can be sent to a crime lab, where licensed technicians use software to filter out the "noise" and get a clear image.

As video editing software becomes more prevalent, there have been concerns about the true reliability of video evidence. Many security cameras insert a code onto the video frame by frame, so that if any are removed or re-cut, it will be immediately obvious that the code's numbers are out of synchronization. Upon seizure, a video will also be held in write-only mode or have its "record" button removed so it cannot be wiped or recorded over.

The psychological impact of using video evidence is often discussed by lawmakers. Visual images are considered the most compelling evidence in a case, but they still only tell one aspect of the story. If a video does not have sound or is taken at an angle, it may not be an accurate representation of what actually happened—yet, it can sway a jury to making a decision.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By snapshot — On Mar 27, 2014

What if a person dials 911 during the incident and has 911 on speaker phone, so that the threats and attempt to break into a person's house is recorded on the 911 tape? For example: Officers are at your door at 3 a.m. with an ex-girlfriend. The officers state she is on probation and want to come in search the house. While you are not on probation and your ex-girlfriend doesn't live with you, you refuse to let them in. You shut your door and lock it. The officers are now cutting into your screen door, then trying to pick your lock to open the door and come in. You dial 911 and hit speaker phone.

The recorded call picks up the angry officers' threats and the background noises of what they are doing. The operator is reporting the demands of the officer, trying to get you to the open the door, but they never get in. Later, you are harassed for making an internal affairs complaint. Now you need to rely on this tape. Is it admissible against the officers who were violating your constitutional rights?

By indigomoth — On Jun 10, 2011

@pleonasm - It is just evidence, like any other evidence.

The reactions of an upset witness would be, to me, far more likely to sway someone than a grainy picture of someone doing something that might have been a crime.

And even if it is as clear as day, it is still just one piece of evidence. It is up to the defense to discredit it (if that's a possibility) and I don't think the form of the evidence matters so much as the truth of what happened.

I know that might be naive, but our courts are set up the way they are for a reason.

They aren't perfect, but are as close as we can get them in an imperfect world.

By pleonasm — On Jun 07, 2011

It is unfortunate that video evidence can be used as an emotional tool to influence a jury.

Video evidence can be manipulated like any other kind of evidence and people will often jump to conclusions that are not necessarily true.

This is something everyone needs to be aware of in this day and age where people have cameras on their cell phones.

On the one hand it makes it feel like justice is easier to find. On the other, it can make the right decision for justice that much harder to make.

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