Can Doorbell Cameras be Used as Evidence?

November 12, 2020

Smart Doorbell Cameras as Surveillance

The “smart home” is a growing trend, using connected devices in the home to increase convenience and home monitoring. They can serve to control everything from lights and thermostats to security, at home, or remotely using smartphone apps. Smart doorbell cameras are one of the fastest-growing smart home devices. Can video from doorbell cameras be used as evidence at court?

Doorbell cameras from companies like Ring and Nest have become immensely popular. They allow users to identify who is approaching their door using video and facial recognition software, talk to people remotely through the doorbell, as well as capture images and video.

As a security measure, these doorbells can help homeowners – such as identifying people stealing a package from their doorstep. Or, they can act as a neighbourhood watch device, capturing evidence relevant to other crimes. For example, identifying a person walking on the street at a specific time and date.

These devices are being actively promoted by law enforcement as a means of collecting video surveillance of criminal activity.

How They are Used

The main use of doorbell cameras as evidence is identification. Police can use the footage to ID persons, vehicles, and license plates. They can also provide circumstantial evidence, capturing behaviour or activities that may support their case. In some instances, a doorbell camera may even capture footage of the crime occurring.

Although visual surveillance is just about everywhere these days, the angle that doorbell cameras provide isn’t covered by traditional surveillance. Most security cameras are pointing downwards and wearing a hood or hat which is often enough to prevent facial recognition.

Doorbell cams, however, are specifically designed to capture faces. This provides more direct footage and identification of anyone who comes to the front door. Where there are no other witnesses, they are a good option for evidence. Police can use them to ID, investigate, and arrest suspects.

Can Doorbell Surveillance be Used as Evidence in Court?

The Crown can use the video evidence from a doorbell camera in Court. The exception is if the defence lawyer is able to find a reason to dismiss the evidence.

Some smart doorbells also record sound. According to Section 184 of the Criminal Code, it is illegal to intentionally intercept a private communication. Does this make doorbell audio evidence inadmissible?

Doorbell audio can be admissible. In large part, this is due to its intended purpose. You are not allowed to secretly record conversations that you’re not a part of, but you are allowed to eavesdrop and as a private citizen you are allowed to record crimes. 

As well, the Courts also consider the intentions of the recorder and the expectation of privacy. A person standing in front of the front door, in plain sight of the doorbell will not, generally, have much expectation of privacy.

It is possible, depending on the circumstances and evidence, that the criminal lawyer may have audio evidence dismissed. However, doorbell audio is otherwise admissible.

Can You Be Convicted on Circumstantial Evidence?

Problems with Doorbell Cameras

Doorbell cameras, while they offer useful evidence, do cause some problems. They put the evidence in the hands of private citizens, which has some inherent risks that can interfere with investigations and/or the proper application of justice.

With smart doorbell evidence, there is a risk of people posting videos on social media or sharing with others before, or instead of, with police. This can lead to in-person or online vigilantism that can target innocent people.

Challenge Evidence with a Toronto Criminal Lawyer

William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer with years of experience in challenging evidence and protecting defendant rights and interests. If you are facing criminal charges and need to find defence counsel, contact Jaksa today.

Related Articles

More Articles

Bail For Murder Charges in Toronto

Bail For Murder Charges in Toronto

In Toronto, bail is only granted in exceptional circumstances for those who have outstanding murder charges. In order to be considered for bail, you and your proposed sureties must meet certain conditions set out by the court. If you are unable to meet these conditions, you may be required to...

read more
Actual Cost of Sexual Assault Charges

Actual Cost of Sexual Assault Charges

Nobody wants to talk about the actual cost of sexual assault charges. Particularly when it comes to discussing the actual costs that serious sexual offences impose on the justice system. This is likely due, in part, to the fact that most people not involved in the criminal justice system don't...

read more
Drug Impaired Driving – The Best DRE Checklist

Drug Impaired Driving – The Best DRE Checklist

What Is a Drug Recognition Expert? A Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) is a police officer trained to scientifically identify if a person's ability to operate motor vehicle is drug impaired by or impaired by alcohol. They are scientifically trained to determine if a person is driving under the...

read more