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§ 904.01, Relevance – Foundational Requirements of Computer-Generated Animation: Probative Value / Authentication

State v. Jeremy Denton, 2009 WI App 78 / State v. Aubrey W. Dahl, 2009 WI App 78
For Denton: Paul G. Bonneson
For Dahl: Patrick M. Donnelly

Issue/Holding: Foundational requirement of probative value applies to computer-generated animation used as demonstrative exhibit to recreate crime scene:

¶17      Turning to probative value, we examine the State’s failure to lay a foundation for the admission of the animation. See, e.g.,Gribble, 248 Wis. 2d 409, ¶57 (in determining probative value, the court considered the foundation laid and the credentials of the testifying witness). Again, the State relies on Roy in support of its contention that computer-generated animation may be admitted without witness testimony that the animation fairly and accurately depicts what it purports to depict. The State contends, based on Roy, that it is not required to lay a foundation for a computer-generated animation in the same way that one is laid for a photograph or video. However, the Roy court’s determination was not based on the fact that the evidence sought to be admitted was an animation, as opposed to photograph or video. Rather, the Roy court was addressing an expert’s ability to use an animation to illustrate his or her opinion. Here, Ambach was not illustrating an expert opinion on possible scenarios, his animation showed distances, where the defendants, the victim and witnesses were, and “what people did.” We reject the State’s argument that computer-generated animation used as a demonstrative exhibit to show the scene and events of the alleged crime is exempt from longstanding foundation requirements. [8]

Issue/Holding: Foundational requirement of authentication value applies to computer-generated animation used as demonstrative exhibit to recreate crime scene:

¶18      A determination of relevance demands that evidence offered at trial be connected to the subject matter at issue. Authentication is a special aspect of relevancy and is preliminary and precedent to a question of admissibility. See Judicial Council Committee Note, 1974, Wis. Stat. § 909.01 Here, there was no authentication by any of the witnesses that the animation fairly and accurately represented their testimony and no single witness had firsthand knowledge as to what was depicted in the animation. See Wis. Stat. §§ 909.01 and 909.015[9]; see also 2 Kenneth S. Broun, McCormick on Evidence § 214 (6th ed. 2006) (“The authenticating testimony from a witness would establish that the animated CGE is a fair and accurate representation of what the witness is trying to describe, and admission of the animation would be within the discretion of the trial judge.”). The computer-generated animation was introduced to clarify Giovannoni’s testimony; however, Giovannoni never testified that the animation fairly and accurately represented her recollection of the events.[10] Although the animation was not expressly introduced to clarify Hohisel’s testimony, it incorporated aspects of his testimony and, like Giovannoni, Hohisel never testified to his belief that the animation captured his recollection of events. Neither did Biever. The confusion resulting from this compilation of testimony is evidenced in the trial court’s observation that the animation “illustrated” Giovannoni’s testimony when, in reality, it illustrated much more than that.


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