People v Duenas graphicAnimations are no longer challenged science under the Kelly/Frye/Daubert microscope…technically when properly introduced, they have never been

Our take on the effects of People v Duenas 74 Cal.App.2d 846 (Cal.2012)

In People v Duenas the defendant fired at a police officer from several locations and ultimately, per witness testimony, stood almost directly over the officer while firing a fatal shot. The prosecution introduced a four-minute animation that showed a frame by frame style illustration of the incident scenes, locations of shell cases, and firing locations. The defendant appealed, among several issues, on the admission of the animation. The Duenas court upheld the trial court’s discretion to allow the animation and made clear the evidentiary difference between animations and simulations.

  • “Computer simulations are created by entering data into computer models which analyze the data and reach a conclusion… a computer simulation…is itself substantive evidence”.
  • “Animations do not draw conclusions… In other words, a computer animation is a demonstrative evidence offered to help a jury understand expert testimony or other substantive evidence”.

For some time our industry and the courts may have focused on a Daubert and/or the Kelly/Frye level of scrutiny for admission of animations. This is not surprising as animation technology has advanced quickly and courts have been slow to adopt uniform admission standards. However, with the precise distinctions drawn by the California Supreme Court in Duenas it is clear that animations are treated as demonstrative aids – which means a different evidentiary hurdle than Kelly/Frye. This guidance, from California’s Duenas court, is original in part, and cites authority from other cases:

  • “Courts have compared computer animations to classic forms of demonstrative evidence such as charts or diagrams that illustrate expert testimony”
  • “Animations do not draw conclusions; they attempt to recreate a scene or process, thus they are treated like demonstrative aids”
  • “In other words, a computer animation is demonstrative evidence offered to help a jury understand expert testimony or other substantive evidence”
  • “In this case, the parties agree that the evidence was a computer animation, not a simulation, and therefore it was admissible if it was ―a fair and accurate representation of the evidence”

As the Frye/Kelly/Daubert admission guidelines developed they were aimed at potential admission of cutting edge or compelling scientific substantive evidence. We’ve been involved in pretrial evidence hearings that dragged on and on as the court and opposing counsel went through a protracted scientific analysis of the potential animation. At times hearings were full-blown Kelly/Frye examinations.

How can we, as forensic animation experts, help our law firm clients adapt to the “new” Duenas admissibility landscape for California courtroom animations?

In our next post: Evidentiary Standards for Admitting an Animation