Do You See What You Believe?

Christiana Spiesel, co-author of Law on Display, has a new blog post up at describing one criminal case that hinged on video evidence. To see the video and the full post, visit To see a full range of media related to the book, visit the website at

On November 17, a video from a crash involving a police car in Connecticut was released to the public. The video shows the last moments in the lives of two young people in a car hit by a police cruiser moving 94 miles per hour with no siren and no flashing lights. It was carried on local news broadcasts and quickly circulated on the Internet. If we didn’t have this critical footage, there would be no contemporaneous visual record of the events immediately preceding the accident. But what will jurors and judges make of this ostensibly objective and probative visual evidence?

To test the public response to the video, I paged through reader comments in a New Haven Register story featuring the video.

Those who blame the officers outnumber those who blame the young people three to one. Some responders want to split the blame; others advise waiting for the evidence to be tested in court. A few speculate about what might be discerned from the tape about the driver of the cruiser that collided with the turning car– that he must have been looking back through his mirror, not forward, to have missed seeing the car. Many comments express the writers’ common sense presumptions about the behavior of those involved – teenagers drinking, teenagers out late at night buying cigarettes, cops “drag racing,” cops “abusing their power” by not obeying traffic laws themselves.

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