Jury Trial | Simulations vs. Animations

Computer “Animations” vs. “Simulations”: Why Attorneys Need to Know Difference

Imagine being in court ready to present a topnotch animation created by a professional litigation graphics company. The opposing counsel jumps up to say, “Your honor, we object to this animation since there is no foundation that it’s identical to what happened, it will confuse the jury, and it does not meet the scientific evidence requirements for admissibility.” How should you respond?

If you know the difference between a computer “animation” and a computer “simulation”, then the answer is simple. In a jury trial, simulations are far harder to get into evidence then an animation.

The difference boils down to this, if the presentation is used to simply illustrate an expert’s or witness’s description of what happened, then that’s an animation and therefore considered demonstrative evidence only; i.e. it shows real evidence, but is not evidence itself. If a computer model or program tells him or her what happened, that is a simulation hence it’s “real evidence” requiring all the levels of foundation and acceptance of methods used by the expert to create the simulation before it can be admitted into evidence.

Animations show the expert opinion and under federal law, it is much easier to attain permission to display an animation to the jury if the sole purpose of the animation is to explain a witness’s testimony in the same way a witness would be allowed to draw on butcher paper in court. For instance, an Court animation | Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense AttorneyAccident reconstruction expert can testify as to how the accident happened and his opinion can be visualized in an animation of the accident.

A well-done computer animation can have a profound effect on the jury in a way that butcher paper cannot, even though essentially the concept is the same. Along with saving time presenting, studies show that more people are drawn to video presentations versus oral.

Simulations are the expert opinion. In Federal Court a simulation is required to meet the strict requirements of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., (1993) 509 U.S. 579,589.The Supreme Court interpreted Federal Rule of Evidence 72 and found that “the trial judge must ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence is not only relevant, but reliable.” The Court gave numerous hurdles that a party had to meet before any such scientific evidence could be allowed in court.

These strict rules make total sense regarding the use of computer simulations. If the witness is really testifying that he or she has an opinion because the computer told them how it happened, it becomes absolutely key to know what information was put in the computer and how it was calculated, and whether this method of data collection and calculation is accepted; otherwise a jury could certainly be fooled by the patina of scientific credibility of the computer model.

Summing it up, ask yourself these key questions if you are looking to get an animation before the jury:

  • Is it intended to be for demonstrative purposes only (i.e. showing real evidence but not evidence itself)
  • Is the animation used simply to illustrate the already-established opinion of an expert or witness, rather than forming the basis of their opinion?
  • Will showing it enhance the jury’s understanding of a complex issue?

If yes can be applied to all the questions, then you have a good chance of showing it to the jury as demonstrative evidence. If you enjoy these tips provided to you by the Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys of Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. follow our blog.