Video surveillance cameras are a common fact of life, and even if many of us do not notice them, they are often recording what is happening on the streets. How such video images are admitted in the Maryland courts was explored in an unreported opinion filed this week in Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called Paul Betts v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that Betts was convicted by a jury of first degree murder and firearms offenses, after he shot a victim in the back with a handgun. Police found a shell casing outside a liquor store near where the shooting occurred, and a detective was allowed to view the DVR of the store’s external surveillance camera. He found a video which showed the shooter the clothes he was wearing, and the shooting and the detective shared a description of the shooter with other officers. The police investigation led them to a video surveillance camera inside a nearby grocery store.
The detective located a video from that evening showing a man with the same clothing as the other video, and he was able to identify the defendant whom he had known previously. At trial, over objection the State introduced through the detective the videos from the liquor store, and still photographs taken from the grocery store. The detective testified to his investigation, described the equipment he reviewed and his process in downloading the videos and the preparation of the photographs.
The defense argued that the videos and photographs were not properly authenticated and should not have been admitted in evidence. The appellate Court noted that such images can be authenticated either through a witness with first hand knowledge, or under the “silent witness theory” which views “a photograph as a ‘mute’ or ‘silent’ independent photographic witness because the photograph speaks with its own probative effect.” The old adage of course is a picture is worth a thousand words.
The Court affirmed the judge’s exercise of discretion in admitting the videos and photographs. Such images are admissible where a sufficient foundation is laid showing the circumstances under which they were taken, and that the process of reproducing them was reliable. Here, the detective’s testimony sufficiently explained the equipment, how he accessed the images and reproduced them, and the convictions were upheld.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.