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What you need to know if you’ve captured evidence of a crime on your dashcam, or home surveillance

MICHAEL TALBOT | posted Thursday, Jan 16th, 2020

Surveillance cameras have become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Whether you’re withdrawing money from an ATM, shopping for clothes, standing on a street corner or riding an elevator, there’s a great chance your every move is being recorded.

But it’s not just Big Brother that’s keeping an eye on you. It’s also your neighbour and the person snarled in the same rush-hour traffic jam. With advancements in technology, it’s now easier and more affordable to arm your own home, or the dashboard of your vehicle, with a recording device.

And while dashcams and front porch cameras are primarily used for personal security and to capture evidence of traffic collisions or package thefts, they can also inadvertently become unbiased witnesses to serious crimes like gang shootings and murders.

Police routinely ask for help from the public securing video evidence in homicide cases, and as defence lawyer Adam Boni tells CityNews, that evidence is often used to convict, and at times, exonerate.

“The last three or four murders, video surveillance from homes and laneways … made up a significant part of the Crown’s case,” he said. “The security that we all sort of want for our properties and ourselves also has this other sort of use and purpose.”

“So there’s interesting issues there in terms of the public’s involvement and their obligation, and what happens when they decide to turn over video,” he added.

We asked Boni, a former federal prosecutor who went on to start his own criminal defence practice in Toronto, to outline what you need to know if your home recording device or dashcam captures evidence of a crime.

Is the public obliged to turn over video evidence?

“They are not obliged to turn it over,” he stressed. “There is no legal requirement that the public turn over video to the police. It’s a question of personal choice and a sense of whether there is an ethical obligation to do so. But typically, if the police want to see this type of evidence, if there is no consent, they can apply for a search warrant.”

“In video surveillance cases, typically what happens is either the video is voluntarily turned over or the police became aware of it, obtain a search warrant, then execute the warrant and seize the video under lawful authorization.”

“There is no legal requirement that the public turn over video to the police.”

Will you have to testify if you turn over video evidence?

“The provenance of the video is always an issue of proof of the Crown, so where the video comes from and its integrity. So typically, if you do turn over surveillance video, the police are going to want to know where it came from, what kind of video recorder recorded it, and they are gonna probably want to seize the recorder or make a copy of the video.”

“If you turn over this evidence, typically, you will be called to give evidence there is no doubt about it.”

“If you turn over this evidence, typically, you will be called to give evidence there is no doubt about it.”

Can you incriminate yourself?

“Typically, the police are quite grateful for any assistance the public could give them. But certainly, if you do turn over a video and it is video that contains incriminatory evidence, once you turn it over, you’re open to an investigation.”

“I’ve never seen that happen before, but theoretically, yeah absolutely. If you hand over a video and the video shows that you were involved in an assault on your neighbour the day before, that’s certainly something that could come back, there’s no doubt about it.”

“If you do turn over a video and it is video that contains incriminatory evidence, once you turn it over, you’re open to an investigation.”

How important is video evidence?

“The reality is now, more and more we are seeing homicide cases, every type of case imaginable, but mostly in the homicide cases, we are seeing a lot of video surveillance evidence and in the drug cases as well too.”

“The video evidence typically is evidence that defence lawyers love to have. It’s a witness that doesn’t lie. It’s an objective recording of the events.”

“The technology is wonderful because it offers us a sense of security, it offers us a sense of knowledge and further information, but these recordings have multiple uses. Uses to the State and the accused.”

“The video evidence typically is evidence that defence lawyers love to have. It’s a witness that doesn’t lie. It’s an objective recording of the events.”

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