Digital Doubts *


Charge: first-degree murder. Defendant: D, the assistant managing director of Tempura, Ltd., the owner and sole occupant of the Tempura Tower office building. M.O.: strangulation after luring V to a deserted conference room on the 37th floor of the Tempura Tower. Time of death: between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m., June 28. Defense: alibi. At trial, D offers a videotape cassette that D claims was tape recorded from 8 p.m. to midnight on June 28 by the hidden automatic security system camera trained on the 37th floor conference room. The police learned of the security system and videotapes at 2:00 p.m. on June 29 and by 5:00 p.m. had obtained a warrant and seized 12 videotapes from the security office, including the tape in question.

The videotape offered by D shows side and back glimpses of a person obviously not D entering the 37th floor conference room with V at 10:17 p.m. and leaving alone at 10:28 p.m. The prosecutor objects to introduction of the tape on grounds of authentication and reliability, particularly that it is "virtually impossible" to detect whether the videotape has been altered digitally by sophisticated optical digital equipment.

What ruling and why? What safeguards or foundational requirements should be required before such evidence is admitted?

* With thanks to Michael Crichton, Rising Sun (1992).

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