Animation In The Courtroom

One of the most interesting cases in all of California in 2012 started off as a murder trial, but ended up being something more. In People v. Duenas, it was not the actual murder that ended up being a major debate, but rather the question of whether animation should be admissible. On one hand, the prosecutors believed that the animation was an effective method of providing a visual example of their case to the jury. However, the defense contended that using the animation created a situation of prejudice where jury members may not be able to discern the difference between an animation and simulation.

The animation/simulation question is the core of the question, which made it all the way to the California Supreme Court. By definition, a simulation uses established factual data to recreate a situation to provide a visual cue to juries. Appearing very similar to juries, an animation is the visual recreation of a hypothesis and not established facts. Because they can appear almost exactly the same, an animation can have a huge effect on the juries responsible for returning a verdict.

The decision of the California Supreme Court was that animations are indeed admissible, albeit with a caveat. When an animation is presented, it must be clearly explained to the jury that it represents what a witness may testify and not necessarily the facts of the situation. In many cases, this would mean that an animation would be presented at the same time as an expert witness or other relevant testimony. Also, the court found that the animation does not need to be exactly identical to the situation, meaning that aspects like lighting only need to be substantially similar. A similar result for videotaped recreations was determined in the case of DiRosario v. Havens in 1987.

With animation technology growing by leaps and bounds, the truth is that an animation can be very influential in swaying the opinions of a jury. With this in mind, the decision in People v. Duenas could be a catalyst where many legal teams adopt animation as a standard technique in presenting their cases.