Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian Blog

Evidence—Partial or Cropped Video Inadmissible

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jul 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

State v. Steinle, 717 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 27 (App. Div. I, July 23, 2015) (J. Orozco)

CROPPED OR EDITED VIDEO INADMISSIBLE IN VIOLATION OF RULE OF COMPLETENESS—FAILURE TO SHOW WHOLE STORY

Defendant was charged with first degree murder. The prosecution attempted to introduce into evidence a cell phone video of the actual stabbing.  The defendant objected on the basis the first 4 and a half minutes of the video had been deleted and this 4 and one half minutes would have demonstrated that defendant was provoked.  The trial court ruled the video could not be shown due to incompleteness. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed in this special action.

Arizona Rule of Evidence 106 provides: If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part--or any other writing or recorded statement--that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time. 

The state argues this rule doesn't apply because a video is not a statement. However this rule is identical to federal rule and the federal rule has been repeatedly interpreted to apply to videotape.  In this case of first impression the Arizona Court of Appeals determined to follow this reasoning.

[I]f selected segments of a video or audio exhibit will be offered at trial...the entire video or audio exhibit had best be preserved, so that opposing counsel and/or the opposing party(s) may review the evidence and determine if 'any other party or any other writing or recorded statement...ought in fairness...be considered contemporaneously with' the proffered segments...Simply put, the government cannot make use of video segments that have been 'cherry picked' when the remainder of the recording has been erased or recorded-over.

The court of appeals found no reason to rule differently here even though the editing of the video in question was done by the owner of the cell phone and not at the instance of the State.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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