Law School Case Brief
Commonwealth v. Serge - 586 Pa. 671, 896 A.2d 1170 (2006)
A computer-generated animation (CGA) should be deemed admissible as demonstrative evidence if it (1) is properly authenticated pursuant to Pa. R. Evid. 901 as a fair and accurate representation of the evidence it purports to portray, (2) is relevant pursuant to Pa. R. Evid. 401 and 402, and (3) has a probative value that is not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice pursuant to Pa. R. Evid. 403. However, new factors must be considered when evaluating a CGA. In particular, in determining the admissibility of a CGA, the courts must address the additional dangers and benefits this particular type of demonstrative evidence presents as compared with more traditional demonstrative evidence.
On January 15, 2001, appellant Michael Serge shot his wife and killed her. He was sentenced to life imprisonment following his conviction for first-degree murder. On appeal, Serge argued that the trial court erred in admitting a computer-generated animation (CGA) illustrating appellee Commonwealth's theory of the homicide into evidence. The CGA demonstrated the Commonwealth's argument that Serge tampered with the crime scene to stage a self-defense setting by showing the position of the victim and Serge, and the sequence, path, trajectory, and impact sites of bullets. The appellate court affirmed the judgment of sentence. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted allowance of appeal limited solely to the issue of whether the admission of the CGA depicting the Commonwealth's theory of the case was proper. The admissibility of a CGA was an issue of first impression in the Commonwealth.
In a criminal trial, did the trial court err in admitting the Commonwealth's computer-generated animation (CGA) as demonstrative evidence?
Affirming, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the trial court properly admitted the CGA as demonstrative evidence. In particular, CGA evidence must be weighed by the same criteria of admissibility; namely, probative value versus prejudicial effect to which all other evidence is subject. Notably, certain concerns prior to admission carry more weight and deserve closer scrutiny when admitting CGA evidence than more traditional forms of evidence. A CGA is potentially admissible as demonstrative evidence, as long as the animation was properly authenticated, it was relevant, and its probative value outweighed the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion, as required by Pa. R. Evid. 401, 402, 403, and 901. The Court found that the Commonwealth satisfied all of the foundational requirements for admitting the CGA as demonstrative evidence. Furthermore, the CGA was relevant evidence that enabled the Commonwealth experts to illustrate their opinions and educate the jury on the forensic and physical data. The alleged prejudicial effect of the CGA did not outweigh its relevance. Therefore, the admission of this evidence was proper.
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