ADMITTING A PHOTOGRAPH INTO EVIDENCE

January 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

One of the simplest tasks of a trial lawyer is to get a photograph admitted into evidence, but I have seen some painful exercises as lawyers strive mightily against repeated objections in their task.

Only two things are required to be shown:

  1. That the witness knows relevant facts about the scene or objects represented in the photo; and
  2. That he or she can say that it correctly and accurately portrays those facts (or, as many of us say, “It is a true and accurate depiction …”).

It is not necessary for the witness to establish the date when the photograph was taken because it does not matter what date it was taken if the condition is unchanged.  It is not required that the witness describe how the camera mechanism was properly calibrated, or to establish a chain of custody or any other such thing, although I did have a chancellor years ago sustain objection after objection until I guessed that he was requiring me to ask the witness to identify who took the photos.  But that judge was in error; who took the photos is not relevant to admissibility.  All that is necessary is for the witness to establish knowledge of the matters depicted and to affirm that the photo does truly and accuractely depict the conditions he observed.

For example:

Q.     Where is the field located where the body you described was found?

A.     Adjacent to my farm house. 

Q.     Are you familiar with that field?

A.     Yes, I am in and around that field every day.

Q.     Did you observe the field on the day that the body was found, and in particular the area where it was found?

A.     Yes, it was I who found the body while I was working in that field.

Q.     Let me show you a photograph and ask you if you can tell me what it shows.

A.     This is a picture of the field.

Q.     Is this picture a true and accurate depiction of the condition of the field that you observed on that day?

A.     Yes.

Then offer it into evidence.

I hope this helps.

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