The Evolution of Forensic Animation

Forensic animation is a form of demonstrative evidence that is an essential part of many legal presentations because of the value and impact that an animation can give to support the facts. Allowing the jury and judge to see the evidence as it relates to the causation of the events is much more effective than just telling them and hoping they understand. If this sounds incredibly helpful, you’re right. If this sounds very new and high tech, that’s where you’re wrong. In fact, the field of forensic animation has been around for many years!

With forensic animation, computer animation brings a scene or incident to life. The animation incorporates known information about the scene, like the time of day and trajectory of the bullet. It allows investigators to run through the incident, often employing multiple perspectives. As a simple example, forensic animation may be used in a car accident case to put the evidence together in order to show that a driver could not see an oncoming car due to an obstruction. In a personal injury case or even a criminal case, this would explain how the accident occurred and show it is not the driver’s fault.

Clearly, this can be a valuable tool for criminal investigators, especially when they are working on complex cases. Forensic animation provides fresh new insight and a better perspective that highlights details or draws the attention of an investigator towards an area of interest. Forensic animation has been in use in courtrooms since the 1900s. The first use of forensic animation was used in a case surrounding the crash of Delta 191 in 1985. The crash resulted in the death of 137 people, plus extensive property damage. Various lawsuits were filed and the attorneys in this case used a computer and forensic animation to help the jury understand complicated situations and information. It was used again in 1991, in a California homicide case. Another groundbreaking case was in 1992. This was when the first forensic animation was admitted as evidence in criminal court in the state of Florida and only the third time in the nation. That case, State of Florida vs. Kenneth Pierce, resulted in the first appellate level decision upholding the admissibility of an animated reconstruction in a criminal court case in the nation. A new type of evidence was officially accepted across the country!

Over the past few decades, forensic animation has proven to be extremely useful in solving cases in the courtroom, particularly cases related to time, perspective, distance/position, and process/mechanisms. Its success in early cases made it more popular and has resulted in forensic animation being frequently used in complicated courtroom cases. The use of this technique is growing more and more common among investigators and in the legal community.

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