Tag Archives: Video Evidence

Laptop with headset

Experts Help Justice Department Make Cases Against Capitol Rioters

The Capitol riot investigation has benefitted from people who recognized neighbors, co-workers, and relatives in videos that were posted to social media accounts. Many individuals who stormed the Capitol were either proud of their actions or thought their friends would be entertained by their antics. As they added evidence of their crimes to social media accounts, acquaintances who were shocked by the January 6, 2021 riot brought that evidence to the attention of law enforcement.

Within weeks, rioters who had treated their actions as a lark were scrambling to remove their posts from social media accounts. To conceal evidence of their presence inside the Capitol, individuals closed social media accounts, deleted pictures and videos from their phones, and even smashed their phones to hinder recovery of deleted files. Law enforcement has turned to amateur and professional experts to make cases against hundreds of participants in the Capitol breach.

Open Source Experts

Fortunately for law enforcement, journalists and other concerned Americans recognized the risk that evidence would be scrubbed from social media. Beginning on January 6, they began a collective effort to search Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites and to archive the livestreams, pictures, videos, and narratives that they found. Open source experts used “automated social media scraping programs” to find incriminating evidence and created shared spreadsheets to catalog and archive their discoveries.

One individual used “open source machine learning and facial recognition software” to capture “every face from the 827 videos that were posted to Parler from inside and outside the Capitol building on January 6.” All of those faces were posted to a website. While some of the individuals who were outside the Capitol might not have trespassed, the site made it possible for individuals who recognized faces to contact law enforcement officers who could investigate further.

The evidence archive has been beneficial to law enforcement, but it has also promoted a broader search for the truth. False claims by politicians and cable media outlets that the riot was caused by antifa or left-wing agitators failed to gain traction, in part because archived video evidence failed to support those claims.

Facial Recognition Experts

Law enforcement officers were able to supplement the open-source archive with pictures and videos taken by security cameras within and surrounding the Capitol. With help from a variety of sources, law enforcement has been able to identify hundreds of individuals whose faces appear in pictures and videos.

While many individuals who breached the Capitol were identified by people who knew them, law enforcement officers turned to facial recognition experts to identify others. In some cases, experts received tips that identified people who were suspected of entering the Capitol, then used technology to find those individuals in videos of the riot.

In other cases, experts began with a picture of a rioter and compared the picture to databases that include photos from multiple sources, including mug shots, driver’s license photos, dating apps, and selfies found on social media. For example, experts using facial recognition technology were able to identify Stephen Chase Randolph, who was seen on video “assaulting multiple US Capitol Police officers.”

Cellphone Tracking Experts

Cellphone tracking experts gathered the “phone numbers of congressional members and staffers, responding law enforcement officers and agents, Secret Service protectees, responding medical personnel, and other authorized governmental employees” who were inside the Capitol during the riot. Cellphone tracking experts then used technology to identify cellphones that were present in the Capitol during the riot. 

The cellphone data came from GPS locations transmitted by the phones, as well as information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and Bluetooth beacons. By subtracting phones belonging to persons whose presence was authorized, authorities were able to identify phones that may have belonged to trespassers and rioters. That evidence contributed to the arrest of Jeremy Daniel Groseclose after experts concluded that a phone associated with Groseclose was probably inside the Capitol during the riot.

Expert Witnesses

None of the Capitol riot cases have gone to trial, in part because video evidence, selfies, and incriminating social media posts have provided compelling evidence of guilt in most cases. If cases do go to trial, expert witnesses are likely to pay a vital role.

While selfies have generally created clear images, it is not always easy to pick out faces from videos of the rioting crowd. Digital enhancement experts will likely testify about techniques they used to stabilize moving images, remove blurs, and increase the clarity of images. Combined with cellphone and facial recognition experts, the Department of Justice hope to present convincing expert evidence to prove the guilt of Capitol rioters. 

cctv installed on the wall to property security

The Power of Video Evidence in the Court of Law

In Minnesota and Louisiana, video has played a key role in piecing together the details of two recent high-profile shootings involving white police officers and black residents. Footage taken by civilians captured both Philandro Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s last moments before their deaths, sparking outrage nation- and worldwide.

Why is video evidence so powerful? For one, it’s visually compelling, meaning it’s more likely to trigger an emotional response and potentially work in favor of the defendant. Secondly, it gives the jury more information to work with in addition to oral and written statements. For these reasons, visual evidence such as video has been shown to be advantageous to both lawyers and jurors in court. We’ll highlight some main types of video evidence and discuss what requirements must be met in order for video to be deemed admissible evidence in court.

Types of Video Evidence

There are many types of video evidence, but some notable examples include:

Body Cameras: In the past few years, the use of police body cameras has become more widespread (although a bill that called for their expansion in Colorado recently failed to pass in the state Senate).

While some say that body cameras are beneficial in holding police officers more accountable for their actions, the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., showed a flaw in this technology when the body cameras worn by the two officers involved became dislodged during the altercation with Sterling. Opponents of body cameras also argue that body cameras give the government more power to invade civilian privacy, especially since the ownership of footage caught on body cameras belongs to the police force. Therefore, the ability to release such footage to the public is subject to each police department’s own set of rules and local laws.

Dashboard Cameras: Similar to body cameras, dashboard cameras are placed on the dashboards of vehicles by either civilians or law enforcement. These types of cameras can be helpful in a variety of instances, especially in cases of DUI. For example, if a civilian is pulled over by an officer and subjected to an illegal search or excessive use of force, anything caught on camera can work in that person’s favor in court.

Like police body cameras, dashboard cameras come with their own set of drawbacks. Again, since dashboard cameras are the property of law enforcement, police are not necessarily required to release footage to the public. In the case of the shooting of Alton Sterling, the involved officers did have dashboard cameras, yet law enforcement has not yet released the footage that was captured at the time of this writing.

Surveillance Cameras: Surveillance cameras placed on public and private property can be instrumental in cases of theft, burglary, and violent crimes. In the case of the shooting of Alton Sterling, which took place outside of a convenience store, surveillance footage was captured but was confiscated by police.

Cell Phone and Similar Footage: These days, anyone can be a cameraman and use their cellphones and similar devices to record incidents as they occur. Cellphone footage has played a key role in telling the stories of both the Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile shootings, and if it weren’t for “citizen journalism,” we probably wouldn’t have as much information about the incidents.

When Philandro Castile was shot by an officer during a traffic stop, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car, began streaming the aftermath on Facebook Live. In the video, Reynolds recounts the series of events as she films Castile, who is slumped over in the driver’s seat and bleeding as a police officer points a gun through his window.

Similarly, civilian footage captured during the Alton Sterling shooting has established the timeline of events. Although surveillance and police video have not yet been released to the public, two videos taken by witnesses received massive media coverage and fueled conversations and protests about racism throughout the country.

Video in the Courtroom

As technology has become more widespread, so too has video and other forms of digital evidence. However, the admissibility of video has evidence has been met with some uncertainty due to its ability to be duplicated or easily manipulated.

Fortunately, U.S. courts have established their own criteria for viable digital evidence, which includes video:

  • The video must be authentic.
  • The video must be relevant.
  • The video must not be hearsay or must be admissible under an exception to the hearsay rule.
  • If there is an original copy of the video available, any copies or facsimiles will be held inadmissible in court.
  • The probative value of the video must outweigh any prejudicial effect.

In addition, the video must be properly stored by law enforcement in order to prevent tampering or damage.


There is no one-size-fits-all best type of video evidence. It’s important for any video captured via surveillance, body/dashboard cameras and cellphones to paint an accurate and well-rounded picture of the situation to ensure impartiality and hold the right individuals accountable for their actions.