Is pre-trial prep needed? Absolutely! Double!! This is when all the elements come together. First, there always seems to be some aspect of a case that attorneys didn’t mention previously because they thought it was irrelevant. Then there are circumstances that were not explored deeply enough. I say this not to cast aspersions but rather to plainly point out that this is the last opportunity to focus on it. If information came to light recently we need to explore it. Regardless of the reason I need to know A: to be helpful, and B: avoid being caught off guard or worse portrayed in front of a jury as unprepared. Enough time needs to be set aside for preparation. Usually there is a need to craft testimony qualifying the expert. This should be broad indicating education and experience with related topics, and specific to the opinions offered. Basis and methodology for the opinion(s) takes the most testimony prep time as this is what the finders of fact will need to understand the opinion and firmly grasp its implications. It must be understandable by the average person so boiling it down to basics is key. Lastly, we must explore what we think the rebuttal testimony will be and anticipate where that may lead.
The number one problem with presenting video evidence in legal situations is misinterpretation. Even though the video evidence may seem visually compelling, mistakes are very often made which affect the outcome of a case. For example, the interpretation of motion in CCTV can be problematic given the varying frame rates one encounters. Additionally, compression technology used to digitize video and transmission errors it sometimes suffers from can introduce visual changes which affect the interpretation of motion. Even the picture content itself is often not what it seems. For example what may seem real and tangible might be a shadow or digital compression artifact. Also, these two issues can interact to compound the challenge of correctly interpreting the video. As a video analyst I consider the first step in any video examination is to determine the reliability of the key aspects of evidence video such as motion or picture elements in the area of interest.
As one might expect, Truth is the business I am in. Many people think when hiring a forensic analyst that the services are limited to strictly laboratory examinations and reports. Lots of professional forensic examiners do view it this way however the reality for me is quite different. Let’s back up a bit. Civil and criminal cases involve plaintiffs and defendants, lawyers, witnesses, judges, and family members at the very least. Everyone is hypothetically trying to get to the truth. Usually it falls to those with a genuine interest in the truth to find it and convince others of it. This is a huge task and as a key member of a team I realize it starts with the need for each of the involved parties to understand how I can support their role in the process. Throughout the months (and sometimes years), a case, and my contribution to it changes from technical examination and plain old flat footed investigatory work to guiding the teams strategy as the case evolves. We get to the truth by investigating hard, forcing others to investigate and sticking to it, not by simply offering plausible arguments which don’t win cases. You should expect nothing less. And we love doing it!
Today’s covert recordings are mostly from inexpensive digital hand held recorders. Typically we find that the recordings come to us when speech and other human sounds are either extremely low in volume or over driven to the point of distortion. In the first instance if the speech was buried in continuous noise, (the recorders themselves generate noise, often called “self noise”) computers could not differentiate it from noise effectively. Current technology allows us to dig deeper into noise to extract more usable speech and utterances than ever before. In the case of digital distortion (called clipping), which is often interpreted as noise we can filter the digital bit stream so as to greatly reduce distortion artifacts rendering speech more intelligible. Most importantly the speech remains unchanged so the interpretation of it is as accurate as possible. AVFL uses forensic procedures and the latest noise reduction technology from Cedar Audio to assure both reliability and repeatability of the results. A full report of just how the material was processed is also provided.
Many clients ask their experts to look at evidence through the lens of specifically how they think it will be useful to them. A good expert will listen carefully. Experienced lawyers and experts also know that often there are often other aspects of a forensic examination which may become important, although outside the scope of a stated need.
In this regard the input a client will ultimately need can be overwhelming and even seem irrelevant if delivered without exposure to the experts conception of the case. Thus there really needs to be a period during which both parties inform each other. The relationship then deepens and both client and expert become more able to process additional input. If this sounds like an art form it really is. Ultimately the outcome of a case depends on how well everyone does his job with respect to informing the others on the team.