Interview Room Recording Systems: What is Admissible in Court?

Interview room surveillance can be a difficult subject to discuss, as jurisdictions can vary wildly. Add in the variance between recommendations and requirements of different organizations and agencies, and it can be nearly impossible to name a single minimum standard for court admissibility.

That said, the standards for a video surveillance system set by the Department of Justice's research department, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), are the most widely accepted. Organizations adhering to those will leave little room for questioning the quality or completeness of their interview room surveillance footage for use in court.

Camera

Under the recommended NIJ standards, the goal of an interrogation room surveillance system’s camera is to provide a clear image of the subject of the interview and all other persons and activity in the room.

The latter part is important to be mindful of—without an adequate view of the rest of the room, coercion and other improper behaviors by off-screen persons become possible, which reduces the value of any evidence recorded. The standard also requires a color camera, not black-and-white, for improved clarity and accuracy.

There are two general possibilities for meeting camera requirements: a single high-resolution camera or multiple lower-resolution cameras.

Cameras need to be positioned to record the entire room and should be capable of presenting a close-up view of the subject at suitable resolution for observing minor nonverbal cues. Specific national, state, and agency standards for a particular interrogation room should also be taken into consideration.

Microphone

As with camera standards, the recording capability and placement of your microphone must enable all sounds made by the subject or others in the room to be heard clearly.

Single-microphone systems must utilize stereo microphones; multi-microphone systems can use unidirectional microphones and other variants for a more effective, efficient sound recording.

The NIJ also recommends against placing microphones on interview tables, as this makes them vulnerable to unruly behavior, can impact the willingness of a suspect to speak, and may result in unwanted acoustic effects.

Digital Multimedia Evidence (DME) Recorder(s)

There are several options for preserving evidence captured by audio and visual recording devices. Digital Video Recorder (DVR) systems take the feed from cameras and microphones and directly encode and store the input for later viewing.

In contrast, systems encoding media at the camera level or using an intermediate encoding device can utilize a Network Video Recorder (NVR), a tool that stores pre-encoded media for later viewing.

DVR and NVR systems both require adequate recording media (for example, a hard drive) and software to control and manage the system. Skimping on your recorder, your recording media, or your software can result in corrupt or compromised data, resulting in inadmissible audio and video recordings.

Video and Audio Monitor

All systems should have external monitors for observing the feeds from recording devices. These may be implemented as separate systems or a single feed with integrated audio and video.

Without adequate separation of control by including these external monitors and power switches, the potential for accidental system failure rises, damaging the credibility of any provided evidence and potentially ruining admissibility.

Law enforcement agencies looking to put together an effective interview room surveillance system should be mindful of specific judicial laws governing equipment and quality. Always ensure the integrity of your recordings by employing the correct technology and placement in interrogation rooms.

Looking to assemble your own interview recording system? Find out how with our guide to building your own interview recording system.

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