YouTube for the Prosecution: How Online Video Could Decide the Next Trial of the Century

It’s the broadcast home of some of the most insipid timewasters on the web. So who would have ever thought that some videos posted on YouTube would ever aid a prosecutor in courtl? It’s an unlikely legal partnership that is becoming increasingly important.

One of the most high-profile YouTube trials started this past week, when former NYPD officer Patrick Pogan stood trial for assault and record-falsifying charges related to an attack on a city bike-rider participating in a Times Square demonstration. The trial might not be taking place were it not for a video of the incident, in which Pogan pushes cyclist Christopher Long to the ground. The video was almost immediately posted on YouTube and has since been viewed more than two million times. It’s simply the latest case of YouTube video playing a prominent role in the legal process.

In a decade where whistleblowers have already been honored by Time Magazine as the Person of the Year, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising to see recent incidents of individuals making their own personal criminal cases online. The first major incident involved Lockheed Martin engineer Michael de Kort, who took to YouTube in 2006 to allege malfeasance by the firm regarding a U.S. Coast Guard contract. A similar incident took place this year with Russian police officer Alexei Dymovsky, who accused the Russian police force of widespread corruption before being charged in January with fraud.

Two decades after video of LAPD officers beating Rodney King caused a sea change in contemporary media and the law, YouTube is a new home for incriminating videos to be seen by practically anyone on the planet. And with greater variety and accessibility of video technology, there are a number of high-profile trials that have hinged on the inclusion of YouTube video postings.

At the same time of the Pogan case in New York, Victoria, Canada is hosting a similar trial in which witnesses captured video of local police kicking two men. The video was subsequently uploaded to YouTube and became a bizarre viral sensation. In nearby Vancouver, local police have actually turned to YouTube in their investigation of a woman’s murder last year. With YouTube firmly entrenched as a powerful tool in the courtroom, other people are looking to the site for help.

In the new digital world, a number of firms and law offices are not just adopting technology, but preaching the need for in-house tech support. A number of firms have stressed the importance of YouTube in video depositions. It’s hard to imagine, considering the videos that have contributed the most to YouTube’s success. But the online network could ultimately prove more useful in legal circles than we imagined.

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