Criminal Case: Computer Animation Showing Hit-Run At Trial

“The current capabilities of computer animation are advanced enough to be useful in many courtroom circumstances” - Berkeley Technology Law Journal

A survey by the American  Bar Association (ABA)  found that jurors are often confused, bored, frustrated, and/or overwhelmed by technical issues or complex fact patterns.  Other research indicated that the attention span of the average juror is seven minutes. This exemplifies the need to minimize protracted descriptions that use charts and diagrams alone.

Computer animation is fast becoming an increasingly important visual aid in courtroom situations. It allows complex data about a sequence of events involved in a court case to be visualized before a jury who may have little or no understanding of established forensic procedure or methodology. Noond et al(2002) in their publication on “Visualising The Scene: Computer Graphics and Evidence Presentation” explained that “computer graphics refers to a  suite of computer applications that can be used to produce images and animations. It utilizes numerical three-dimensional  (3D) models of real-world objects to create artificial environments.  Computer technology is employed to build an animation of these environments frame by frame (a series of still images), that, when played back in quick succession, create an experience of space, motion and time”. 

Computer animation has been used to depict various cases including criminal and civil cases at trial. It has been argued that, nationally, computer animations are mostly used in criminal cases, and only a handful of times has it been used in criminal cases. An example of one of its use in criminal cases is the case of Pierce v. State.

A 53-year-Old man, Kenneth Pierce who has had 20 prior convictions in the last 35 years was charged with vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident with death, tampering with evidence, and driving with a suspended license. This was a case that involved three children walking home through a residential neighborhood in Dania, Florida, who were hit by a pickup truck driven by Pierce, resulting in the death of the six-year-old child and serious injuries to the two other children. 

During the court trial, computer animation was used to illustrate how Pierce used his pickup truck to murder a 6-year old and injure two other kids.  While there was an objection from Pierce’s attorney on the usage of the computer animation, the expert investigators on the case maintained that the computer animation accurately depicted the accurate height and angle of how the victim of the homicide was struck. Pierce was convicted and sentenced to a total of sixty years in prison.

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