Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Animating Evidence: Computer Game Technology in the Courtroom

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Animating Evidence: Computer Game Technology in the Courtroom

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Inevitably the future will be increasingly digital. The continuing digital revolution has had an enormous impact on the way forensic evidence is collected, analysed and interpreted and has even led to the defining of new types of digital evidence (for example, digital imagery and video, hard drives and digital storage devices). Much of this digital media will end up needing to be admitted into courtrooms as evidence. In most jurisdictions around the world technology can be slow to become legally accepted. It is fair to say that, in general, legislation for the admissibility of digital media usually lags behind the technological development (Schofield and Goodwin, 2007).

In a modern courtroom, the presentation of forensic evidence by an expert witness can bring about the need for arduous descriptions by lawyers and experts to get across the specifics of complicated scientific, spatial and temporal data. These technological advances have also meant that experts have had to develop new ways to present such complex evidence in court. Digital visual evidence presentation systems (including digital displays, computer-generated graphical presentations and three-dimension simulations) have already been used in many jurisdictions. These visual tools can be used to present evidence and illustrate hypotheses based on scientific data, or they may be used to depict the perception of a witness, such as what may have occurred (seen from a specific viewpoint) during a particular incident. Digital reconstruction technology may also be applied in a courtroom to explore and illustrate 'what if' scenarios and questions, testing competing hypotheses and possibly exposing any inconsistencies and discrepancies within the evidence (Burton et al, 2005).

It is important to realise that the use of such computer-generated presentations in a courtroom is only the current manifestation of evidence illustration and visualisation in a long history of evidential graphics used in litigation (Schofield and Goodwin, 2007). However, computer animations and interactive virtual simulations are unparalleled in their capabilities for presenting complex evidence. The use of such enabling visualisation technology can affect the manner in which evidence is assimilated and correlated by the viewer; in many instances, it can potentially help make the evidence more relevant and easier to understand (Tufte, 1985; Burton et al, 2005; Mervis, 1999).

At this point, it is perhaps worth defining and describing the technologies under discussion in this paper. Over the past ten years, visual evidence displays and digital courtroom presentation systems have developed to cover a wide variety of technologies (O'Flaherty, 1996; Schofield and Goodwin, 2007). This paper focuses on the evidential use of computer-generated imagery, particularly computer graphics.

Computer graphics in this context refers to a suite of software applications that can be used to produce outputs such as rendered images and animations(2). Computer graphics systems can utilise numerical three-dimensional models of real world objects to create artificial virtual environments. Based on scene survey data, objects such as equipment, vehicles, human figures, environment details, landscape features and other relevant evidence items can be accurately positioned and precisely scaled within the artificial three-dimensional environment. The scene objects can then be texture mapped with relevant photographic images to produce a credible lifelike appearance (Watt, 1999; Foley et al, 1995).

Computer technology can be employed to build an animation from one these virtual environments, this is usually rendered frame-by-frame (as a series of still images). These frames, when played back in quick succession, create an experience of space, motion and time. Popular cultural examples of this technique include animated films and movies such as Shrek by Dreamworks Animation

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