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Photographic Evidence Establishing Just Verdicts In The Courtroom

By Benjamin J. Cantor, J.D.

While Justice is sometimes pictured blindfolded, photographic evidence is one of the most effective means of piercing the mask of doubt when preparing a legal court case. Photography is extremely valuable in assuring that justice prevails in our courts.

Although nearly 90 percent of all evidence presented in court trials is verbal, it is also the most unsatisfactory type of evidence. People lie, forget, and exaggerate; their hearing or eyesight may be impaired, or they may possess prejudices that affect their perceptions of how things happened.

Oral testimony is not only less reliable than other forms of documentation, but it is also fleeting--lasting only as long as the individual jurors' memories. On the other hand, photographic evidence usually remains before the jury from its introduction to the end of the trial. And it is often present in the jury-room while verdict deliberations are taking place.

Continuous Testimony

A photograph continues to "testify" from the moment it is put into evidence until the verdict is rendered. Jurors who may not have listened closely to all the verbal testimony--due to distractions or witnesses lowering their voices--have a second chance to review the case when photographic evidence is available.

Visual material is superior to the spoken word for communicating ideas, information, or descriptions. As early as about 400 B.C., the warping effect of time upon human memory was noted by Greek historian, Thucydides. Confusion and uncertainty, he noted, arise "... from the want of coincidence between accounts of the same occurrences by different eyewitnesses; arising sometimes from imperfect memory, and sometimes from undue partiality for one side or the other."

Using legal photography, it's possible to bring whole accounts of historical facts into the courtroom. It could be fairly said that the photograph has been the most significant contribution to the fact-finding process since the emergence of the testimonial witness.

Today's ubiquitous television and video productions have made Americans a truly visually oriented people. Regardless of language differences or degree of literacy, most persons can understand a picture or drawing; hence, visuals can be regarded as a "universal language."

The paramount value of pictures lies in their ability to offer graphic credibility and convincing proof of facts in search of truth, which should be the ultimate goal of all litigation.