Can Cell Phone Video Be Used as Evidence in Court?
People are never without their cell phones, giving them easy access to a camera and other recording devices. When someone witnesses an assault, theft, or other crime, all it takes is a click of a button to film the incident and potentially help law enforcement identify the suspect later.
With cell phone videos becoming more prominent in criminal cases, many judges, lawyers, and jurors have been faced with whether or not they should be allowed as evidence in court. If you’re facing a criminal trial in Pennsylvania, you might wonder the same thing.
Can cell phone evidence be used against you in a Pennsylvania court, or even work on your behalf? What makes video evidence admissible or not? Learn the answer to these questions and more about how cell phone videos could weaken or strengthen your defense.
When Is a Cell Phone Video Admissible in Court?
Evidence is only considered valid (or admissible) during trial if it meets specific criteria. Before accepting evidence, courts will consider its relevancy, authenticity, and source reliability.
The Video Must Be Relevant to Your Case
For evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant to the case at hand. This means the cell phone video must make an essential fact of your case either more or less probable in order to be considered.
If a piece of evidence doesn’t apply to a central element of the trial, the courts will not consider it. For example, mentioning someone’s previous driving record during a trial for rape charges is irrelevant and could even be regarded as prejudicial.
The Video Must Be Authentic
A cell phone video can be declared admissible evidence once its authenticity is verified—proving it was not cut, edited, or otherwise tampered with. It must also be brought forth by someone who can testify in court to the legitimacy of the video.
The Video Must Be in its Original Source
To be considered admissible evidence, a cell phone video must be original and come from a reliable source. Many people assume that social media videos online can be used as evidence in a trial to support their case. But for such footage to be admissible, your attorney must recover the original video evidence, not the post itself.
Video footage captured by traffic cameras will carry more legitimacy than a cell phone video captured by someone trying to win a legal proceeding. If a video’s source cannot be found or it cannot be deemed authentic, it can be excluded under Pennsylvania’s hearsay rules.
Inadmissible Cell Phone Evidence
Irrelevant evidence wastes time and may distract the jury from a vital part of the case. Inadmissible evidence could include a previous criminal record for unrelated charges, evidence based on hearsay, or video evidence that is otherwise irrelevant, discriminatory, or unreliable.
A significant problem with videos taken on a cell phone is their quality and credibility. When you put forth something as evidence, you’re trying to convince the court that something specific happened, and the video should be able to tell its story clearly. Problems with your cell phone video could include:
- Lighting– If lighting is poor, it could be hard to tell certain features of the video, such as a person’s identity.
- Time of Recording – timing is everything, and maybe your video portrays something that should have occurred at a certain time, but it is impossible to prove it without a timestamp.
- Location– Is there too much guessing needed to determine where your video was filmed? If your video requires taking your word for its details, it doesn’t offer much more than your spoken testimony.
And, in cases involving apps like Snapchat, videos taken with a filter might be considered inadmissible evidence because it’s too difficult to determine whether it’s really you in the video.
Cell Phone Evidence FAQs
Do Privacy Laws Interfere with Using Videos as Evidence?
In Pennsylvania, privacy laws state that all parties must consent to be recorded during a private conversation, including those that occur over a cell phone call.
However, these laws only refer to audio recordings, not video recordings. The audio portion of your video footage may be inadmissible since private communication laws protect it, but the video footage without sound could still be admissible. Video alone could be enough to prove your innocence, so it’s worth discussing with your attorney, even if the audio is invalid.
Can Police Look Through Your Phone’s Camera Roll?
Police must obtain a warrant in order to secure evidence from your cell phone. This includes any videos, photos, or Internet searches you may possess on your mobile device that could connect you to criminal activity.
If you do not consent to a search or seizure and police do not have a warrant, they cannot look through your phone or camera roll. Doing so would violate the Fourth Amendment, and the evidence could be dismissed from your case.
How Do People Obtain a Cell Phone Video to Use During Trial?
Often, video data can be acquired by simply asking for it from the originator. But your attorney may be able to file a subpoena, or police can execute a search warrant to access the video footage in question.
Facing Criminal Charges in Pennsylvania? Contact Us Today.
Using cell phone video as evidence may do more harm than good in some cases. Before you take the steps to use cell phone video as evidence during a criminal trial, there are several items to consider. At Worgul, Sarna, & Ness, P.C., our attorneys will guide you through every detail of your case, helping you determine and recover solid evidence to build your defense and avoiding missteps during trial.