Simulacra and Simulation: Presenting Visuals in the Modern Courtroom as Evidence

“Believe some of what you see and none of what you hear,” states an old adage popular for combatting hearsay. The former point of that message is driven home in the modern courtroom by the use of state-of-the-art animations and simulations. Jay R. Vaughn, managing partner of Morgan & Morgan’s Louisville office, weighs in on the presentation of arresting visuals in the courtroom in a new article for Trial magazine, which covers animations and 3-D printing.

The courtroom is a very different place this century than it was a mere two decades prior. Cop dramas, reality television networks, and Netflix docuseries have made digital replications part of the litigious zeitgeist, an expected addition to the overall prosecution package delivered to undecided jurors.

Where it was once sufficient to reenact scenes on the center stage of the courtroom floor with council and experts as co-directors, the age of advanced personal computing has created an association between the use of sleek, professional grade visuals and the legitimacy of evidence presented with said visuals. Think of a medical practice utilizing a website built on a new Wordpress skin versus a practice with a webpage constructed on an Angelfire template. Without intimate knowledge of either practice, which team of doctors would you deem as being more trustworthy?

Vaughn delves into the dilemmas that trial lawyers face with respect to the presentation of animations and simulations in this day and age. For starters, animations and simulations have a legal distinction that make their usage dissimilar when presenting evidence. Computer animations are used to illustrate witness testimony and, as the article states, are admissible if they are “authentic,” “relevant,” and “a fair and accurate representation of the evidence to which it relates.” As such, an animation is used only to support the testimony of a witness. By contrast, simulations are a technical approach for presenting evidence that is solely reliant on measurable facts. These analytical reconstructions are created via the input of data into the computer such as, for instance, the statistics from a car accident trajectory. From the data entered, a simulation is calculated on mathematical and physical principles to generate an image that illustrates this information.

While there are easy-to-use animation applications such as Spine Decide, Knee Decide, Shoulder Decide, Blasen Human Atlas, and Spine Pro III a download away that will save you hundreds on design, they may ultimately run you the risk of costing your client. As Vaughn puts it, if the case in question is too complex, a basic rendering application may not cut it. In these cases, he advises that an animation company be hired to craft a customized animation to convey the complexity of the matter. Enhanced features and details of proprietary visuals will go a long way in impressing jurors and imparting the gravity of the damage caused by the defendant.

You can read the full interview from attorney Jay R. Vaughn in the December 2015 issue of Trial, which is produced by the American Association for Justice. He and other Morgan & Morgan attorneys can be reached here for a free case evaluation.