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Forensic Animations – Are they Right for Your Case?


     By AI2-3D Forensic Animations Forensic Animations, Mapping, Photogrammetry, Virtual Models, Medical Animations Expert Witness

PhoneCall Eugene Liscio, P. Eng. at (416) 704-2695


Attorneys need to consider how well a forensic animation will fit into their case. Is it worth the expense? Will you get something that is effective? This article looks at some considerations before committing to a forensic animation for your case.
There are many situations where a forensic animation plays an important role in the communication of complicated concepts or events in the courtroom. In some cases, they can be instrumental in providing a pivotal piece of information that would otherwise be very difficult to explain in words alone.

There are certain times when a forensic animation is most applicable in the courtroom and trying to use an animation for the “wow” factor isn’t always the right thing to do. So, how do you know if a forensic animation fits your case? Will you get the best return on your investment? How do you get the most effective transfer of information to the jurors? These are excellent questions that any attorney should ask before embarking on a forensic animation.

The following are a list of considerations that should help you understand if a forensic animation is right for you.

1. Hard to Visualize?
Does the issue at hand surround perspective, timing, relative distances or a process/mechanism?
The reason you would want to provide a visual explanation of how something happened or how something works is because it would be difficult to explain in words alone and it is important for the jury to understand and retain this information.

Trying to explain to a jury how something may have appeared to a witness is a lot more difficult than showing an animation and then having the witness say that “the animation is a good representation of what I saw”. Timing and distances are often difficult for people to imagine and may not appear as expected. For example, when a jury is told that two vehicles were involved in a head on collision and one driver was traveling at 60 kilometers per hour, they have a preconceived notion about how fast the driver was traveling. However, when one considers that the other vehicle may have been traveling at 80 kilometers per hour, the resultant speed of the impact becomes apparent only when viewed by through an animation. Many times, people reconsider their preconceived notions to better align with your arguments.

Also, if the case surrounds an industrial process, chemical reaction or even a business process, a forensic animation might assist in educating the jury in a clear and simple manner. This is especially true if the process is complex and not easily understood by the lay person.

2. Are you comfortable explaining the topic?
When attorneys get in over their heads trying to explain a topic that is beyond their understanding a couple of things occur. The jury will most likely see that the attorney is struggling with a topic and are uncomfortable. Then, the jury may begin to question the attorney’s credibility. Even worse, the attorney may stumble on his/her own words and confuse the jury on a key issue that could be pivotal to the understanding and outcome of the trial.

In these cases, it is best to have a prepared animation to go through and educate the jury. Often, in a complicated subject, it might be wise to get the expert witness to work through the animation step by step to enhance the juror’s learning.

3. Will an animation speed up the trial process?
At one time, this would never be a consideration and even today, it is less of a factor. However, more and more judges are appreciative of tools that help speed up the trial process. A forensic animation should be something that answers more questions than it brings up and keep to the points of issue. Normally forensic animations are a compact, concise and an efficient use of time that is appreciated by judges and jurors alike.

4. Would you like to look at different scenarios?
One of the greatest benefits of forensic animations is not actually for the jury, but for the attorney. This is the possibility of running different scenarios and being able to visualize the potential outcome of each. One can easily "experiment" with different assumptions, evidence and variables and subsequently present these to the jury.

Forensic animations provide a visual set of scenarios where a case has its strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing the plausible scenarios when they have been summarized in a visual recreation means an effective and less time consuming way to understand one's case. Areas of strength can be emphasized and areas of weakness can be avoided. Depending on the type of case, having the benefit of running different scenarios might be invaluable to your side.

5. Has the other side prepared a forensic animation?
This is often something that many attorneys feel they need to counter with an opposing animation. In some cases, it is wise to respond. Due to what many have coined the “CSI factor”, many jurors have come to expect that high tech animations will be used in the courtroom. When the other side has used a forensic animation and you have not, it can have a psychological impact on how the jurors perceive your preparedness for the case. On the other hand, if the other side has not prepared an animation, it may be advantageous to one’s case to do so.

6. Costs & Timing
There are many factors to consider when it comes to the cost of an animation since these vary greatly depending on the length and complexity of the animation. There are also the varying rates among forensic animators based on their abilities and experience. However, one must weigh the cost of the animation relative the potential settlement costs of the case. Get an experienced forensic animator to provide you an estimate up front for what the costs of a particular animation might be. Normally, most forensic animators will review the materials and provide a quotation at no cost. This will better assist you in evaluating the cost benefit of an animation.

Ensure that you have time in your case to allow for adequate disclosure to the other side. Forensic animations take a considerable amount of effort in some cases and even when all the information is available at once, they may take up to several weeks to complete.

7. Admissibility
One must consider the type of animation being created and whether or not it will be admissible in court. It makes no sense spending the time and money and not being able to present a professional animation in court. There are several articles written on the admissibility of forensic animations and demonstrative evidence in general. The key concepts are centered on:

• How is the forensic animation relevant to the case?
• Who actually prepared the forensic animation? Is the evidence produced from a reliable source?
• Does the forensic animations’ probative value outweigh the risk of prejudice? Does it aid the trier of fact in the search for truth?
• What was used as the basis of the animation and how can it be verified for accuracy? Did someone check the data? Was the data entered correctly?

Every case has a different set of circumstances that may allow or disallow an animation. Therefore, special consideration should be given to the risks associated with admissibility of any forensic animations.

8. What does your expert witness suggest?
In the case where an expert witness is retained, it is often wise to get their opinion on whether or not a forensic animation would be beneficial to their testimony or to the arguments being presented. Often the expert witness may have a recommendation as to what the animation should show and whether or not there is value in a forensic animation.

Ensuring that a forensic animation is right for your case is the best means of ensuring that he money spent will return favorable results. For further information on forensic animations and any of these topics above, please visit the AI2-3D Forensic Animations links page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eugene Liscio, P. Eng.
Eugene Liscio is the owner of AI2- 3D Animations which specializes in forensic animations for litigation support. AI2 is actively promotes the use of Forensic Animations, 3D Virtual Models and other visual strategies for the courtroom.
Eugene Liscio is a registered engineer in the province of Ontario, Canada.

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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