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What is Visual Evidence?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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Visual evidence is material of a visual nature presented in a courtroom. This can include photographs, drawings, videos, computer models, and any other visual media. There are a number of ways in which visual evidence can be used. Outside of court, visual evidence is also used in settings like boardrooms and classrooms to provide visual representations of materials under discussion for people who absorb information more easily when it is presented visually.

The purpose of visual evidence, like other evidence, is to provide supporting information that helps prove the facts of a case. This evidence may be presented to clarify, to expand upon evidence already presented, or to disprove a claim brought up by the other side. For example, a witness could testify that she was close enough to a shooting to see the gun used by the accused. The defense could present visual evidence in the form of a computer model of the site where the shooting took place to demonstrate that the witness was too far away for her claim to be believable.

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This type of evidence is also sometimes known as demonstrative evidence. In order to introduce visual evidence, attorneys must be able to show that it is relevant to the case. Relevance can be a slippery slope and judges sometimes have to think carefully before admitting or refusing evidence. In the case of demonstrative evidence, another concern is the sometimes prejudicial nature of visual evidence. For instance, gruesome crime scene photos may shock the jury and lead to a biased verdict.

Attorneys use visual evidence in a variety of creative ways. The growing acceptance of such evidence has led many juries to come to expect things like computer models, dioramas, photographs, illustrations, and so forth. Attorneys who do not present demonstrative evidence can find themselves at a disadvantage, especially if the opposing side does have such evidence to bring to court. Juries may find visual presentations of facts and information more accessible and meaningful. Attorneys who rely on words alone may confuse the jury.

Lawyers involved in a case have an opportunity to object to demonstrative evidence brought in by the other side. Because this type of evidence can become prejudicial, attorneys keep an especially sharp eye for subtleties in the way the evidence is presented to look for signs that opposing counsel might be trying to bias the jury. For instance, if a reenactment of a crime in a computer model shows a perpetrator who looks suspiciously like the accused, a defense attorney might argue that this would inevitably color the jury's opinion of the defendant and that the model should not be allowed into court.

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