Movie Time for the Jury

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a motion picture is potentially worth much more. When used sparingly, getting a movie before the jury at trial can add a sense of reality, clarity, and drama to the evidence.

Motion pictures, in contrast to the tedium of testimony, can result in a greater impact on the jury. They aren’t subject to faulty observation, fading memory, or failing words. In fact, movies often are more accurate than eyewitness testimony and can give a different focus and an expanded scope to the events portrayed to the jury.

Movies show events as they occurred (assuming they’re not edited). Because it’s rare for the crucial issues of causality to be filmed “live,” movies are most often used to impeach a plaintiff’s claim of physical disability and in other situations in which planning is possible. Great examples of uses for motion pictures include

  • showing experiments filmed before trial, thus avoiding the pitfalls of a live performance in the courtroom;
  • portraying a reconstructed accident scene that helps the jury to visualize the actual event accurately in context; and
  • showing the difficulties experienced by a severely injured plaintiff in performing normal activities.

Movies can definitely have a dramatic effect in the courtroom and a powerful impact on juries. But it’s these very strengths that have led some courts to adopt a cautious attitude toward their admission in evidence. Courts worry that jurors can be persuaded to give motion pictures more weight than they deserve and could overreact, particularly to films of plaintiff’s activities to show the extent of disability.

Courts are also concerned that motion pictures may mislead through the use of telescopic lenses, ingenious stage settings, skillful editing/direction, special camera angles, speeded up reproduction, and selective filming of activities.

If you get a movie into evidence, it’s an exhibit like any other and thus may be taken into the jury room during deliberations if the court considers it proper. CCP §612. But if the jury asks to see the films again, the usual practice is to rerun the pictures in the courtroom in the presence of the judge and counsel. This avoids the problem of who would run the projector in the jury room. It’s unlikely a juror would be permitted to operate the projector, as he or she might try to exert some influence on the film’s content, and a technician can’t show it in the jury room because of the possibility of overhearing juror remarks.

Before you can use a motion picture as evidence, you need to authenticate it as you would for any other form of demonstrative evidence. CEB’s Effective Introduction of Evidence in California, chap 11 will walk you through the authentication process. Once you get it in, CEB’s California Personal Injury Proof, chap 17  will help answer all your questions on the use of motion pictures as evidence.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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