Tuesday, August 7, 2012
California Supreme Court Opinion:
Reenactment Through Computer-Generated Animation Proper
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court, in upholding a death sentence yesterday, approved the use of a computer-generated animation to show jurors how the prosecution contended the crime occurred.
The opinion, by Justice Joyce Kennard, affirms the judgment in the case of Enrique Parra Duenas, a motorcyclist who fatally shot a sheriff’s deputy who wanted him to stop to submit to questioning.
Witnessing the shooting was a prostitute, with whom the deputy had been speaking prior to encountering Duenas.
The animation was of four minutes duration. It was created by an expert in “biomechanics”—combining principles of engineering and physics—and her son, experienced in computer graphics.
It was based on the police report, coroner’s report, photographs, and crime-scene measurements.
Before it was shown, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dewey Falcone explained to jurors:
“What you’re going to see is an animation based on a compilation of different expert opinions. This is similar to the expert using charts or diagrams to demonstrate their respective opinion. This is not a film of what actually occurred or an exact re-creation. It is only an aid to giving you a view as to the prosecution version of the events based upon particular viewpoints and based upon interpretation of the evidence.”
On appeal, Duenas argued that the animation portrayed speculation as reality and should have been disallowed. Writing for a unanimous panel, Kennard disagreed.
Relying chiefly on out-of-state cases, she wrote:
“Courts and commentators draw a distinction between computer animations and computer simulations….[A] computer animation is demonstrative evidence offered to help a jury understand expert testimony or other substantive evidence…; a computer simulation, by contrast, is itself substantive evidence….”
A simulation, she explained, entails feeding information into a computer with a conclusion being provided.
“Courts have compared computer animations to classic forms of demonstrative evidence such as charts or diagrams that illustrate expert testimony,” Kennard said, while noting that a simulation could not be introduced absent the showing required to admit evidence derived from a new scientific technique: that it had gained “general acceptance...in the relevant scientific community.”
The animation was relevant, the jurist said, to whether there had been “premeditation and deliberation,” and thus whether Duenas was properly convicted of first-degree murder. The deputy was depicted as being shot at from different locations and once even after he had fallen to the ground.
Dismissing the protest that the evidence was speculative, Kennard wrote:
“In a case like this one, where the animation illustrates expert testimony, the relevant question is not whether the animation represents the underlying events of the crime with indisputable accuracy, but whether the animation accurately represents the expert’s opinion as to those events.”
The opinion of the experts as to the sequence of the shots paralleled the prostitute’s eyewitness testimony.
The case is People v. Duenas, 2012 S.O.S. 3966.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company