Israeli Police Criticized by Courts for Misuse of Video Evidence

Judges criticize police for failing to show the footage to the court or for providing inaccurate descriptions of films.

A close-up of the legs of a prisoner, wearing leg restraints, which are being opened by a police officer as the inmate is lead to court.
Dan Keinan

Judges have released a number of violent crime suspects because of what they call faulty handling by police of video footage meant to serve as evidence, according to a probe by Haaretz.

Thanks to the growing number of cameras in public spaces throughout the country, police often use video footage of crimes in court. But the Haaretz investigation revealed that the evidence is at times dismissed by judges and the suspects released on account of problems with the footage.

Courts have criticized the police for not presenting the films themselves but only their reports of what the clips showed; for failing to provide the equipment to show the films in court; and for instances in which there were significant differences between what the clip showed and what the police reported it showed.

In one case, the Be’er Sheva District Court freed a woman suspect after viewing a clip that contradicted the police investigative reports. Judge Shlomo Friedlander said that the materials submitted by the police suggested the suspect could be dangerous and might attempt to obstruct justice. Yet this impression changed once the court was finally allowed to see the objective evidence, namely the video clip. The judge said that it was disappointing that the clip was not shown in the first or second hearings in which the police asked to remand the suspect. “In circumstances in which an objective and central [piece of] evidence exists it should be presented,” he said.

In Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court this month a similar incident occurred at a hearing to remand a man who allegedly hit another man in a gas station, according to police who wanted to charge him with assault and making threats. The judge criticized the police for bringing only its own report of the film - instead of showing the film itself. “It would be better if the investigating unit would present at the remand [hearing] the best evidence, which many times is the clip documenting the incident. Seeing is better than hearing,” said Judge Amit Michles, who released the suspect.

Be’er Sheva Magistrate Court Judge Amir Doron ordered the release of two suspects because of the way the police handled such films. In one case of suspected extortion, Doron said the police did not bring the equipment necessary to show the clips to the court, while the police report of the film did not identify the suspect as the person committing the crime. Doron said the police had been warned a number of times in the past about the need to enable the court to examine the evidence when a person’s freedom is at stake. In another case he criticized the police for not allowing him to view the film.

Such incidents are common, according to lawyer Tamer Assadi, who oversees issues related to arrested suspects for the southern district of the Public Defender’s Office. Assadi calls on the police to change their approach. The police always present a “viewing report” and say that a police officer watched the video, notes Assadi, and in many cases the court criticizes the police and releases the suspect.

“Today there are the means to bring the film directly to court and there is no reason at all not to do so when it is a powerful and objective piece of evidence,” said Assadi, adding that the judges want to view the film in order to evaluate it themselves.

The Israel Police responded: “Without relating to the few specific cases presented, we would like to emphasize that as a rule in hearings to extend the remand of suspects for investigative purposes, the relevant materials are naturally brought before the judge in the framework of a secret report and are not presented in an open hearing in the court. Nonetheless, even in this very small number of cases which make up only a tiny percentage of the arrest requests made by police, all judicial criticism is studied and if necessary conclusions are drawn from it.”