Dance Moves As an Identifier

A burglar was identified by his dance moves, captured on security cameras:

“The 16-year-old juvenile suspect is known for his ‘swag,’ or signature dance move,” Heyse said, “and [he] does it in the hallways at school.” Presumably, although the report doesn’t make it clear, a classmate or teacher saw the video, recognized the distinctive swag and notified authorities.

But is swag admissible to identify a defendant? Assuming it really is unique or distinctive—and it looks that way from the clip, but I’m no swag expert—I’d say yes.

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 1:03 PM25 Comments


Ed Hurst April 19, 2012 1:21 PM

It’s a factor in ID, not sufficient of itself. I used it to ID someone who committed a crime against me — a hooker snatched part of my taxi driver’s change. She was dumb enough to forget she had ridden with me several times. The cops wanted to know how I could make the ID from a hundred yards or so, and it was the composite of appearance and unique stride. However, it was confirmed in a line-up (which was all too easy).

Ken (Caffeine Security) April 19, 2012 1:26 PM

Dance moves as an identifier – I think we just found a new biometric here!

To login to the system, please insert your identification card, and perform the following moves on the attached Dance Dance Revolution pad…

On a more serious note, body language is definitely a good assisting identifier, but to obtain a conviction I believe additional identifying information would be needed. If the “dance move” is that well known by peers, it would be easy for someone to mimic the motions.

Notice my login example above is “two-factor” authentication. Using a “dance move” by itself would not be sufficient identification, because body language can be mimicked.

Daniel April 19, 2012 1:45 PM

IANAL but I would say no it’s not admissible and the article goes on to explain why. Just because you have a match doesn’t mean it’s a unique match. So I’d argue that whatever probative value it has is outweighed by prejudicial value. This is isn’t DNA we are talking about. How does one know that it isn’t someone who sort of looks like the perp trying to frame him. It’s not actually evidence of anything at all but as things stand merely a possible coincidence.

jacob April 19, 2012 2:04 PM

Well, there is another identifier for biometrics? Although, I think it could not be only identifier used. Some guys can’t dance with alcohol (me) and for some the dance moves would vary by consumption.

Next thing, will be bonkadong? is that right? some country song…..

Again, mileage may vary by type of fuel used….riding floor buffers, skiing, etc.

Chris April 19, 2012 2:38 PM

Dance Dance Revolution at the TSA checkpoint could be problematic. Popular songs include Drop the Bomb and Dynamite Rave.

kiwano April 19, 2012 2:38 PM

Are the dance moves enough evidence to convict the guy? I’d hope not. Are they enough to search his house, find the stolen property, and use that to convict the guy? I’d expect so.

Not enough evidence to convict is still usually plenty of evidence to go and get more evidence until there’s enough to convict. So those of you contemplating victimless crimes, please remember that your threshold for how much evidence is too much to leak is “enough for a search warrant” rather than “enough for a conviction”. For those of you contemplating other crimes (of which I might find myself the victim), please ignore everything I just said.

Captain Obvious April 19, 2012 3:03 PM

It doesn’t have to be enough to convict. It’s easily enough to question him, which is far better than the No idea whatsoever they started with.

Most investigations start with trying to link the victim(s) to potential suspects using connections much more tenuous than this.

Anton April 19, 2012 4:21 PM

Just confirms, once again how clever nature’s authentication systems are.

I don’t think there is a man on earth who would not be able to pick out his wife out of 5 woman walking in front of him, even if they tried to match body shape, size and clothing.

Rob April 19, 2012 7:30 PM

Admissible probably yes. Given strong evidentiary weight no.
Courts have strict rules for admission of evidence but on the whole they try to admit things that are relevant and testable in court. All of the doubts that people have raised in the comments are reasons for the defence/jury to reject it as proof.

Joe Buck April 19, 2012 8:37 PM

Identification by gait figures in the plot of Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother”.

greg April 20, 2012 3:07 AM

I don’t know why it wouldn’t be admissible. Sure it may not be unique, but that hasn’t stopped the FBI using metallurgy to match a bullet to packet of bullets and getting convictions. It may match, but then it also matches every other packet of bullets out there. Or at least a very large portion. Just as a single example.

This is one area where the sloppiness of shows like CSI “shows a match” in fact parallels reality fairly well.

And i have not even started on the logical/statistical fallacies used in courts to prove guilt.

jacob April 20, 2012 7:51 AM

@greg. Exactly right. Forensics is seen as an exact science that leaves no doubt. That is the way it is presented and even perceived by a majority of the public.

Computer forensics is as close to a straight forward search. BUT, there is too much left out, unaccounted for, and presented poorly. Luckily, most criminals are rather stupid. I tend to think that bad behavior/mad mental processes. The sloppiness shows itself.

I do wonder about the really intelligent ones though. They are probably never caught. Encryption, VPNs, Tor, OS that leave no trace etc. Maybe a lack of evidence would help convict, anyway, Just random thoughts. Border patrol can have fun looking at my 10GB of Lolcats.. oh, and my copies of every one of Schneier’s essays…..

“singing….soft kitty, warm kitty while standing in TSA line. “show me your papers citizen!!!

M.V. April 20, 2012 10:08 AM

Jacob:”I do wonder about the really intelligent ones though. They are probably never caught. Encryption, VPNs, Tor, OS that leave no trace etc.”

And then they get over confident and use a picture taken with their iPhone to taunt the LEOs. (See the link posted by ChristianO)

keeping up the cleverness all the time is very, very hard.

X April 20, 2012 5:14 PM

Sounds like the barrier to getting your house tossed via a warrant is getting lower all the time. Not to say the guy shouldn’t be questioned. But we are making it awfully easy to frame someone. Heck, steal $10k worth of stuff, break into the second home, hide $2k worth stuff, profit.

jacob April 21, 2012 7:43 AM

@MV. Thanks you made me chuckle and I acknowledge that you are right on that.

A thought occurs to me. I haven’t seen anyone ask the question. During WW1 and WWII the rights of american citizens were violated, snitches, spying on fellow americans by government, etc. It’s why I don’t know german, GGP stopped speaking german during WWI.

It happened and then everything went back to normal. Are there similiarities and differences between history and what is happening now? Just a thought and toss in the exception of the modern age of surveillance?

I love this forum Bruce, BTW…..

David April 21, 2012 8:18 PM

Here in Australia, my wife sat on a jury for a robbery trial in 2003 in which part of the evidence relied on the expert testimony of facial and gait analysis expert Dr Meiya Sutisno. My wife’s view was that the overall weight of evidence (Sutisno’s being a small part of it) clearly pointed to guilt.

Due to difficulties in revealing Sutisno’s methodology (there seem to be patents pending), the conviction was overturned on appeal and sent back for re-trial where a second trial resulted in a hung jury and a third resulted in conviction (without Sutisno’s evidence).

The case is summarised on p67 of this paper:

This all suggests that (in Australia at least) such expert testimony will not receive a favourable viewing by the magistrates and judges in our various courts.

Jonadab April 24, 2012 3:37 AM

But is swag admissible to identify a defendant?

It doesn’t need to be. Any criminal who’s enough of an idiot to perform a distinctive dance move in front of a camera — a dance move that he also routinely performs in the hallways on a day-to-day basis — is stone cold certain to have left other evidence of his identity, which should be easy enough to discover once you’ve identified him. Just for example, if he left even a partial fingerprint anywhere, you now know whose prints to compare it against.

The so-called “swag” (a word that I always thought referred to pirate treasure and vendor-branded merchandise handed out at conferences and similar events; but whatever) may not be great evidence in court, but it is a fantastic clue for the investigators, one that practically screams, “Look at me! Look at how cool and bad I think I am, committing this crime. I’m so cool, I’m not even worried about getting caught. I want people to know how cool I am. I’m probably going to spend half a day tomorrow bragging to anyone who will listen about how I pulled this off.”

Dave Bell May 1, 2012 1:22 AM

It’s a clue that picks out somebody for further checks. Assume competent and honest investigators and it seems pretty normal. CCTV pictures give pretty low-quality ID data.

The fact that we immediately wonder about “competent and honest” is the problem which often gets ignored.

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