How to Assess a Forensic Animation - Offensive and Defensive Strategies
While most trial attorneys are knowledgeable of the general requirements of demonstrative evidence, the chances of successfully challenging a forensic animation can be greatly enhanced by focusing on the hallmark that separates forensic animations from cartoons - accuracy.
First, fight fire with fire by having your own forensic animation expert review your opponents' exhibit. Knowing how a forensic animation is produced can provide insights into finding inaccuracies and misleading elements.
Second, don't accept the sponsoring expert's claims of accuracy. While they are usually the source of data upon which a forensic animation is based, they almost never create the animation themselves, and may have very little knowledge of how it was produced. Ask pointed questions about the accuracy of specific elements within the animation.
Finally, find out who actually created the animation, what their qualifications are, and how they established that the work was done correctly. Many forensic animations are produced by graphic artists who may confuse realism with accuracy.
When using a forensic animation in your case, there are several things you can do to defend it against challenges, as well as enhance its effectiveness.
First, make sure your source of forensic animation is just as qualified as your other expert witnesses. While the proliferation of sophisticated software has created an entire generation of computer animators, only a handful have experience in forensic animation. They'll definitely be working with your other experts - and might end up testifying as well - so be sure they measure up.
Second, disclose your intention to use a forensic animation early. Several courts have ruled that early disclosure requirements apply to such evidence, and starting the production process early usually results in a far more convincing product. As an added bonus, the early presentation of a forensic animation during the deposition of the sponsoring expert often encourages pre-trial settlement.
Finally, have your forensic animator explain the entire forensic animation process and prepare supporting documentation to assist in establishing the accuracy of the animation. Backing up a forensic animation with charts, graphs and reports helps if admissibility is challenged during a pre-trial hearing, and bolsters credibility with a jury.
About the Author: Steven P. Breaux is a forensic animator and principal at Perceptual Motion, a Gig Harbor, WA firm specializing in the production of forensic animations for use in illustrating the opinions and testimony of expert witnesses in complex litigation. He has authored articles published by numerous legal journals, and has also developed presentations for attorneys on the subject of forensic animation; moderated the panel discussion on forensic animation at the 13th Triennial Meeting of the International Association of Forensic Sciences at U.C.L.A. in 1999; and appeared as an on-air guest of National Public Radio. He can be reached for comment at (253) 265-3577 or by email.
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