The Lesser Known Benefits of Forensic Animation

There are two great benefits that proponents of forensic animations like to advertise about their product. The first is that that having a courtroom animation increases the persuasiveness of an argument and the second is that an animation creates a lasting visual impression that is retained in jurors’ memories longer than a verbal presentation alone.These would seem like fantastic selling points on their own, however, the truth is that most cases settle before anyone sets foot in a courtroom and only a small percentage of forensic animations are ever presented to a jury. Hence, the benefits that forensic animators should be touting are the ones that become apparent well before the “play” button is ever pressed in a courtroom.

Eugene Liscio of AI2-3D Animations discusses some of the lesser known benefits of forensic animation in this article excerpt from The Jury Expert.

The forensic animation process is more than just building 3D models that are moved in a virtual space. The act of putting together a crime or accident scene in 3D means that details need to be examined with a high level of scrutiny and that a method be established for error-checking and adherence to an expert’s testimony (i.e. verbal or written report). The ability to ensure consistency in the time-distance relationships of available evidence is of great benefit to both the expert witness and the attorney. This is especially true when there are several events occurring at the same time that may be difficult to visualize all at once.

Animations and video are really nothing more than a series of rapidly moving images. There are various frame rates for television and broadcast, but most forensic animators work at a standard frame rate of 30 fps (frame per second). This means that for every second of animation, there are 30 images that pass by the eye in rapid succession. This frame rate causes the individual images to appear to have smooth motion, but an animator can stop the motion at any one point (in 1/30th increments) and inspect the 3D position of objects to see if they are in agreement with the provided evidence. It is this ability to accurately locate and measure objects in time that provides an effective means of checking evidence in criminal cases, accidents and personal injury cases.

Targeting the Audience

For most attorneys, the probability of a settlement is far greater than a trial. Therefore, it is important to use a forensic animation for the most likely audience. At the very least, the opposing attorney and their expert witness make up the bulk of the initial targeted audience, but a jury does not. Therefore, it is important to consider how one might prepare a 3D recreation slightly differently for the opposing counsel and their expert witness.

The general guidelines for creating a forensic animation should apply regardless of the target audience. The animations need to be authentic, factual and any part of a forensic animation that is prejudicial or that tries to provoke an emotional response is better left out. Any part of a recreation that does not deal with the facts and available evidence runs the risk of being inadmissible.

One thing to consider is that the opposing attorney and their expert witness are normally familiar with the details of a case, it may not be necessary to simplify to the same level as one would for a jury unfamiliar with the subject matter. Therefore, the animations can be focused on the topics that strengthen one’s own case and those that rebut the other side’s arguments. It is not necessary to include simple explanations, definitions or demonstrate the operation of a particular mechanism if it is not in dispute.

When rebutting the other expert’s evidence, it may be beneficial to add additional data for locations, distances, velocity, acceleration, time, or other relevant data. These pieces of data may not always be of great value to a jury, but to an experienced expert witness they may solidify some critical points or expose some pieces evidence that may add additional risk for the opposing counsel.

Getting it Right

Often, when building a forensic animation, there are a number of reports from police, accident reconstructionists and other expert witnesses that need to be assembled so that the “facts” are cohesive and logical. More often than not, each report tends to highlight a different aspect of the evidence and there are almost always different, conflicting viewpoints as to what happened.

A forensic animator can provide a preview animation well before the trial date that clearly demonstrates the initial assumptions of a recreation. Highlighting the inconsistencies in evidence early on can save the expert and attorney from an embarrassing situation during trial and it allows the expert witness to question and clarify some of the “facts” and assumptions of evidence that may not agree with one another. As a result, it is not uncommon to find that an attorney or expert witness will change their position on certain issues since it becomes clear that something did not happen the way it was originally projected. On the other hand, if an error was found to be made from the “other side”, it can prove to be a great “ace in the hole” during trial.”

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Read more of this article, including responses from experienced trial consultants at The Jury Expert