Smile, You’re on Camera: A Lawyer’s Guide to DVR Forensics



Big brother is everywhere these days. You can’t stop for a coffee on your daily commute without encountering a camera on every block. The average American is caught on camera over 50 times per day. This is alarming to some, but it could be the key to making or breaking your case.

The odds are good that relevant individuals were caught on surveillance footage during or around the events in question. Frequently, this information is overlooked or completely missed and it’s up to you and your team to identify, obtain/preserve, navigate, and ultimately determine how to best present this crucial footage.

Image of a surveillance camera capturing a van driving past


Time is of the essence when it comes to DVR Forensics. Typically, DVR systems hold 30, 60 or 90 days worth of video and in many instances, much less. After that window, the hard drive begins to overwrite/delete potential evidence. The faster you can identify and obtain the data, the more likely you will be to recover the footage you need.

Start with the basics: 

  • Map out the location of the alleged incident
  • Create a list of potential footage sources 
  • And take the proper legal steps to get the footage itself. 

You need to get this raw data from its original format into a product that is easily digestible. This is where thorough organization is key to success. At times, you may be dealing with 3-5 different DVRs, all using different file systems, with 8-10 cameras per system.

Once you can obtain the video or DVR systems you are after, the real work begins.


Close up shot of DVR system


Most DVR systems are proprietary and built overseas. Which makes them challenging to find more support for than is supplied with the original user manual. There is a large variety of file structures, storage capacity and capabilities, playback options, features, etc. being used with each manufacturer. To make things even more confusing, often we find ourselves dealing with multiple DVRs from several manufacturers that are using a variety of different file structures and features (motion, steam, etc.).


Upon initial review of all available footage, we recommend making yourself a “KEY” or “SUMMARY” to help you conceptualize the big picture. By organizing using your set naming conventions, file structure, angles and associations, you can more quickly and efficiently review hours of footage.

Carry this organizational structure through to your export keeping in mind what option is going to be most efficient for playback and presentation.


For the purpose of a smooth testimony, it is always best practice to document every step taken throughout this process. Make it easy on yourself to accurately speak to the actions you took to forensically preserve, acquire, image, review and export all the data presented. The amount of detail you document is up to you, but at a minimum, we recommend documenting the programs used to acquire, image, export and review the DVR footage.


DVR Forensics can be a massive time constraint on your case. As your client’s expert counsel, you must be dynamic and strategic with your time management. We have an experienced team of Digital Forensic Examiners with extensive backgrounds ready to tackle your DVR forensic needs. Whether it’s just an initial review, consultation of options, exporting for compatibility, or a full-on acquisition to testimony need, Roloff Digital Forensics has you covered.

Contact us for help with your case.

See what we've been up to

Follow us on

Back to the Blog