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Court experience counts for video analyst Plaxton

Giving evidence in court as an expert witness is a bit like going to the dentist, Hamilton forensic video expert Michael Plaxton tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“No matter how many times you do it, it’s always going to be uncomfortable,” he explains. “I once heard another expert say it’s like defending a doctoral thesis while the professors throw tomatoes at you."

Plaxton, principal of New Media Forensics, says the stress hits a peak during cross-examination when it’s almost impossible to predict what elements of his evidence the opposing lawyer will focus on.

“You have so much to remember and think about, but the unknowns are the biggest concern,” he says. "Often, after the first few questions you start to settle in. It’s certainly not pleasurable, but you get used to it."

And he's had more opportunity than most to acclimatize himself to the courtroom, having been qualified as an expert in more than 25 criminal trials in Ontario and Alberta.

Plaxton’s experience is bolstered by more than a decade working in the field of digital imaging and forensic video analysis for police forces in Ontario, and he is the only sole practitioner in the province certified by the industry group Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association International.

Despite his impressive resume, Plaxton says his entry to the profession was a “total accident.” After completing a college diploma in film and photography, he enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, where he served as an infantry soldier and navy engineer before finally retraining as a military photographer.

Plaxton worked his way up to become a senior instructor of digital imaging at an Ontario base, and then switched to law enforcement following his retirement from the military. He opened New Media Forensics in 2011 to meet a growing demand for digital forensic services, which include authentication and clarification of video and still images, as well as motion analysis and reverse projection photogrammetry of video to determine the size, movement and speed of objects or people.

The business of running his company parallels his police work, where he remains an employee of the Hamilton Police Service.

Many of his private clients are criminal lawyers, who hire him to provide opinions on whether or not their client can be identified from video evidence, or to review the work of video analysts at other police departments. He has also been hired to act in civil cases involving video where insurance fraud has been alleged.

“Sometimes lawyers will want to know if there has been any manipulation of video footage. If there are any signs of monkey business, I can pick those up,” Plaxton says.

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