Computer Animation 1
TECHNOLOGY IN THE COURTROOM:
AN EXAMINATION OF THE EFFECTS OF COMPUTER ANIMATION
Meghan Dunn, Ph.D.
Federal Judicial Center
Presented at the Law and Society Association Conference,
Please do not cite or circulate without author’s permission.
Computer Animation 2
Computer animation technology is becoming increasingly common in
courtrooms around the country, and has been used in cases ranging from plane crashes
and car accidents to medical malpractice and murder. Because of the relatively new
status of computer-generated evidence, there are few codified rules for introducing it in
court. Although some judges have admitted animations as demonstrative evidence,
others have ruled them inadmissible, fearing the displays would unfairly bias the jury.
The confusion surrounding the admissibility of computer-generated evidence
means that the jury is not guaranteed to see an animated display, even if one has been
created for the trial. Despite this uncertainty, many lawyers are willing to devote
significant resources to developing an exhibit that may not be seen by the jury, in the
belief that animated displays are far more persuasive than either traditional forms of
evidence or verbal descriptions of the same information. The expense of including an
animated display is often justified by common knowledge and bolstered by anecdotal
evidence; the law review literature is full of clichés such as “a picture is worth a
thousand words” (Kelly, 1995; Powell, 1996; Sherman, 1992; Turbak, 1994) and “seeing
is believing” (Bennett, Leibman, & Fetter, 1999; Borelli, 1996; Plowman, 1996).
Another common assumption underlying the popularity of computer-animated
displays in court arises from attorneys’ beliefs that a society so heavily reliant on
television is predisposed to believe visual media. Many attorneys believe jurors who
have been raised in a era with telev