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Holmes v. District of Columbia

August 5, 2020

While reviewing a real-time security feed, a store detective at Saks Fifth Avenue noticed that the Appellant, and an accomplice, were apparently stealing shirts. The detective notified a colleague, who apprehended the Appellant a few feet from the door with the stolen merchandise. At trial, the defense objected (on hearsay grounds) to the store detective’s testimony about what he observed on the security footage. The Superior Court Judge overruled the objection and the Defendant was convicted of theft.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that the incident shown on the security footage was not a statement (only statements are barred by the hearsay rule). Rather, the store’s surveillance system was a tool, like a telescope or binoculars. As long as the person who observed the incident (whether aided by security cameras or another tool) testifies at trial, the hearsay rule does not apply. The Court noted that an oral conversation, captured by security footage, may be evaluated differently, as the conversation may likely be a statement for hearsay purposes.