Issues with photo analysis evidence


Some criminal cases in North Carolina rely on circumstantial evidence, including photo analysis. Photo analysis has been used for decades to try to identify suspects from surveillance videos and photographic stills. However, this type of evidence has not met the rigorous standards of validation.

Problems with photo analysis

Police departments frequently send grainy surveillance videos and photographic stills to the FBI lab at Quantico to have the videos and photographs made more clear. FBI image analysts also compare images taken from photographic stills and videos to photographs of suspects to make an identification. However, scientists have found that this type of analysis is unreliable. Researchers have found that trained examiners are not any more accurate than interns in making correct identifications, but courts still routinely allow this type of evidence to be admitted in criminal trials and for the analysts to testify as experts.

Image analysts are not required to have advanced degrees or any type of formal training. Instead, they go through training sessions and work with seasoned analysts in a form of apprenticeship. Despite this lack of requirements, police departments and prosecutors regularly rely on their findings.

DNA testing has revealed that many people who have been convicted based on circumstantial evidence, including many types of forensic tests, have been wrongfully convicted. Despite these problems, courts continue to allow expert testimony from forensic examiners on analytical methods that have not been scientifically validated. People who are charged with crimes based on forensic analysis of photographic evidence may want to retain experienced criminal defense lawyers for help with challenging the evidence and the science behind it. Federal courts already do not allow photo analysis evidence at trials. A defense lawyer might be able to point to the lack of a scientific basis when challenging this type of evidence.