It is becoming more and more common for buildings such as businesses to have surveillance cameras, and the police commonly search for and obtain surveillance video in an effort to identify suspects. Even with modern technology, such videos or photographs. They are often not of the clearest quality, and the prosecution may seek testimony to help identify persons shown in the images. The admissibility in evidence of such an identification was explored recently in an unreported opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Jose Hernan Quintanilla v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that two women were loading some furniture when they were approached by three men, one of whom had a gun. They were robbed of their wallets and credit cards. At trial, one of the victims identified Quintanilla as one of the robbers. Several hours later, an ATM card of a victim was used at a nearby service station, and the police obtained video from a surveillance camera showing use of the card through still photographs were made.
The prosecution also called as a witness a police detective, who testified that he interviewed the defendant in an unrelated matter about eight hours after the robbery. The detective, over objection, was allowed to testify that the defendant that he had interviewed was the same man shown in surveillance footage. The jury convicted the defendant of robbery.
The only issue on appeal was whether the trial judge erred in allowing the detective to identify the defendant as being shown in the video and still photos. The Court noted that a lay person can give opinions at trial on matters rationally based on the perception of the witness, and which are helpful to determination of a fact at issue. Case law holds that an officer may testify to the identity of a person in a surveillance photograph if there is some basis for concluding that the witness would be more likely than a juror to be able to identify the person, which requires some personal familiarity with that individual.
Here, the Court held that the detective within hours of when the image was made personally met face to face with the defendant, in a well lit room for about fifteen minutes. Since the video and photos were hardly of professional quality, the Court found that the officer was in a better position than the jury to identify the defendant as the individual in the image, and that identification would be helpful to the jury. The conviction was upheld.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.