Admissibility of Computer-Generated Evidence: A Case Study of An Appeal At The Arkansas Court of Appeals

"Courts will determine the admissibility of computer-generated evidence using the broader framework established by the rules of evidence" - Webster and Bourne III (2016)

Gauthier(n.d.) in his publication “The Admissibility Of Computer-Generated Evidence: An Overview” stated that “there exists no nationwide comprehensive law on the admissibility of electronic evidence in the United States.  There have been hundreds of cases dealing with this topic in the United States and they are based on a variety of state laws.

As there is no uniformity in the wording and requirements provided for in such statutes, there are often conflicting decisions which can create some confusion as to the admissibility of computer-generated evidence.” However, he further explained that the Federal Rules of Evidence provide the requirements for the authentication of documentary evidence as well as a prerequisite step for the admission of such evidence. 

Federal Rules of Evidence

The Federal Rules of Evidence address authentication without making a distinction between computer-generated and other types of documented evidence. “The Federal Rule of Evidence 901 describes authentication as a condition precedent to admissibility, “satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that a matter in question is what its proponent claims”. If a document is produced by a process or system, one must demonstrate that such process or system produces an accurate result” Gauthier(n.d.)

In the case of Peterrie Transp. v. Thurmond, during the trial, the jury was shown an animation depicting rear-end collision, which the appellant objected to. Dr. Thrash, a chiropractor who has frequently treated patients suffering from rear-end collision injuries, was summoned as the appellee’s expert witness at the trial to testify about what happens to a person’s head, neck, and body when they are engaged in a rear-end accident. The appellee then presented a film to demonstrate and explain the mechanics of a rear-end crash injury.

The Appellant (Peterrie Transportation Services, Inc) in this case argued that the trial court erred in allowing the chiropractor to show an animated video to the jury depicting what happens to a person’s neck when a rear-end collision occurs. Appellant claims that the videotape was admitted without a sufficient foundation, that the footage was irrelevant, and that any significance was significantly outweighed by the risk of undue prejudice. 

Authentication or Identification

According to Rule 901(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Evidence, authentication or identification is required as a condition precedent to the admissibility of evidence. However, Rule 901(a) provides that authentication or identification is satisfied by the presentation of evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.

In this case, it was affirmed that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by allowing the animation into evidence. It was explained that the expert witness’ testimony was sufficient to lay the foundation for admitting the animation and that the animation shown by the Appellee at trial only offered to illustrate to the jury the mechanics of a rear-end-collision injury and not to reenact the original events of the accident.

A reference was also made to the case of Loy vs State of Arkansas stating that “evidence is relevant if that evidence has a tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”

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