Through the Lens of the Law: Interpreting Video Evidence in US Courts in the Digital Age


Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowships


Media Studies


American Bar Association


From cell phone footage to police body cameras, today’s courts increasingly rely on video as evidence. Yet the US legal system lacks clear standards and measures on how to assess video evidence. As a result, judges, lawyers, and jurors treat video in highly varied ways that can lead to an unequal and unfair rendering of justice. This publicly engaged research project incorporates a media studies lens to examine how and to what ends video shapes the pursuit of justice in court. In partnership with the Scientific Evidence Committee of the Science and Technology Law Section of the American Bar Association, it methodically tracks the use of video as evidence in state and federal court trials in criminal, immigration, and American Indian law (1990-2020). The core argument is that without systematic guidance to inform how video evidence is assessed under the law in criminal and civil matters, civil liberties and human rights are disproportionately recognized and upheld. The overarching goal of the partnership is thus twofold—to provide a basis for much-needed unified standards and applications for treating video as evidence and to open a new realm of PhD career pathways that leverage visual analysis into various law and policy domains.