Crimal Justice Caught On Tape Essay Research

Crimal Justice, Caught On Tape Essay, Research Paper


Using Criminals Videos Against Them

By Edward F. Davis, M.S., and Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Ph.D.

Article from FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

In Sparta, Michigan, a 16-year-old high school dropout with a criminal record bludgeons a man to death, then cuts off his head. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, five teenagers vandalize and burglarize eight homes and a school. During their escapades, they blow up a live sea trout in a microwave and get a dog high on marijuana. In Los Angeles, a group of teen s assaults people with paint balls , the projectiles from paint guns. In Washington, DC, five men rob, beat, and urinate on their victim. Following the incident, the men interview one another, pretending they are on the news documentary, City Under Siege. In each of these incidents, the offenders were convicted by evidence they had created themselves. They had videotaped their exploits, providing incontrovertible evidence of their crimes.

Who Does It and Why

Photographing criminal activity is not a new phenomenon. In the past, most crimes occurred under cover of darkness, helping to maintain the anonymity of the perpetrators. Yet, recent cases indicate that criminals seem more interested in publicizing their crimes than remaining discreet. Several teenagers in Houston, Texas videotaped themselves as they dug holes for people to fall into, blew up mailboxes in broad daylight, and plotted their activities on a blackboard as if they were military commanders. An increasing number of cases involve videotaping drug parties. Various vice units have discovered videotapes that individuals have made of themselves and others using illegal drugs.

Other perpetrators have videotaped their involvement in hate related crimes. In Los Angeles, for example, a fire that gutted one store and damaged two others was captured on videotape by one of the perpetrators. The walls were spray-painted with swastikas, the initials Die Jew. A 20-year old student was charged with arson for the incident. Some of the rise of videotaping such acts as vandalism and destruction can be attributed to a quest for stardom. One amateur filmmaker in New York City offered money to individuals who could supply him with photographs and videos showing graffiti writers at work hitting, tagging, and bombing their targets. Other amateur filmmakers record their crimes to show off and brag to their friends about their accomplishments.

Implications for Law Enforcement

Knowing that individuals have videotaped their criminal acts has important implications for the law enforcement community. However, when investigators apply for warrants to search the perpetrator s residence in such offenses as burglary, robbery, or assault, they tend not to include requests to seize audio or video materials.

Without sufficient, specific justification, magistrates probably would not sign and original warrant to include the seizure of audio or videotapes. Thus, investigators must establish probable cause of the existence of video evidence related to a particular crime, include these facts in the application for a search warrant, and specifically list such items to be seized during the execution of the warrant.

To establish probable cause, preliminary investigators should routinely inquire if victims and witnesses knew of the presence or use of a video recorder.


Awareness of this growing trend remains the key to catching criminals on tape. Investigators must routinely ask offenders, victims, witnesses, and informants about the existence of video evidence in order to establish the probable cause required to seize this important evidence during the execution of a search warrant.

Offenders who film their criminal acts often let their egos override their common sense. Yet, investigators who remain clear-headed can make sure that the next film these budding stars appear in is the 11 o clock news, as they


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