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Law School Case Brief

Simms v. Dixon - 291 A.2d 184 (D.C. 1972)

Rule:

The determination of whether to admit photographs is within the discretion of the trial judge because he or she is in the best position to determine their relevance and accuracy. The prime condition on admissibility is that the photograph be identified by a witness as a portrayal of certain facts relevant to the issue, and verified by such a witness on personal knowledge. The witness need not be the photographer nor need know anything of the time or conditions of the taking. It is the facts represented, the scene or the object, that he must know about, and he or she can say whether the photograph correctly portrays these facts.

Facts:

Plaintiff and defendant were in an automobile accident. The testimonial evidence was irreconcilable as to who was at fault. Plaintiff attempted to admit into evidence certain photographs of plaintiff's car to show who was at fault. The trial court refused to admit the photographs on the basis that the photographer was not available. The trial court granted judgment for defendant and plaintiff appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial judge err in refusing to admit into evidence the six photographs of appellant's automobile taken after the collision?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court found that the trial court had improperly exercised its discretion as the photographer was not necessary to lay a foundation for the admission of the photographs. Although the trial court examined the photographs, it made no finding that they did not accurately represent the relevant facts or that he had some question as to their accuracy. Rather, apparently out of a sense of caution because of the obvious importance of the photographs in determining whether the vehicle was struck on the right rear or in the center of the right side, the court simply required that the photographer to testify. Dimensions and perspective were not critical to the admissibility of these photographs. In the absence of a finding that the proffered foundation by appellant was not an accurate representation of the vehicle immediately following the accident, it was reversible error to deny admission of the photographs.

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