Four Rules of Evidence Every Law Enforcement Official Should Know

With the number of digital images and videos being captured today by law enforcement and everyday citizens, it’s critical that law enforcement officials follow the rules of evidence in order to ensure that the pains they take to record convert into admissible evidence.

Many pieces have been written on the rise of technology and its impact on the world of law enforcement, namely the rise of digitally recorded evidence such as that provided by digital audio and video recording systems, dash cams, body cams, smartphones and more.

That being said, even though many courts in the United States have applied the Federal Rules of Evidence to digital evidence in a similar way to traditional documents, important differences such as the lack of established standards and procedures have been noted by researchers like Richard Adams in his thesis, the Advanced Data Acquisition Model, 2012.

Despite the incredible advances in technology, not all devices or equipment is equal. What sets different systems apart among equipment is not only its ability to capture and collect digital video, but also its ability to preserve those video images, how simple it is to operate it and how it is maintained.

In an article discussing digital evidence, many of the positives of digital evidence are explained:

[Digital evidence] tends to be more voluminous, more difficult to destroy, easily modified, easily duplicated, potentially more expressive, and more readily available. As such, some courts have sometimes treated digital evidence differently for purposes of authenticationhearsay, the best evidence rule, and privilege. In December 2006, strict new rules were enacted within the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requiring the preservation and disclosure of electronically stored evidence.

So how can we understand the requirements that come along with digital evidence? What are the basic rules of evidence in the case of digital video images? The following four rules from this article provide excellent guidance on the legal considerations which digital video must comply with.

Four Basic Rules of Evidence

1.) Preservation — the duty to properly keep and maintain memory cards and other temporary storage devices on which images are recorded

2.) Authenticity — that the digitally recorded evidence is a true and accurate reflection of what the proponent of the evidence claims it to be. An article from the American Bar explains that “authentication is the basic process of proving evidence is in fact genuine. The process by which you will have to determine the authenticity, reliability, and admissibility of evidence must start immediately as opposed to the eve of trial. Too often, counsel appear at pretrial conferences without any clue, let alone a plan, for authenticating and admitting documents into evidence during trial. Litigators need to concern themselves with authenticity and admissibility from day one to successfully manage discovery and conduct a successful lawsuit.”

3.) Policy — have a formulized agency policy for evidence collection and preservation which includes digital and electronic evidence (video captures, e-mails, computer data).

4.) Admissibility — showing that the purported evidence is relevant to the ultimate fact to be proved and the extent to which it weighs on the probability of that fact. Generally if the evidence passes the first three steps its admissibility will be assured.

Keep your organization performing at its top by ensuring you not only are following the right principles and policies, but also that you are also supporting those processes with the right equipment.  iRecord would love to help. Let us know how we can by contacting us here.

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