In order to be admitted as evidence in an American trial, a photograph
"Relevant evidence" is defined by the Federal Rules of Evidence
(which govern federal trials and have been adopted by a majority of the
states as well) as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of
any fact that is of consequence . . . more probable or less probable than
it would be without the evidence." (Rule 401)
- More Probitive than Prejudicial.
Rule 402 of the
Federal Rules says that relevant evidence can be excluded if its
probative value is "substantially outweight by the danger of unfair
evidence." This provision of the rules is often at issue when prosecutors
in criminal cases want to
admit graphic images of the wounds of their
victims. How probitive are such images? How prejudicial are they?
The requirement that a photograph be authenticated means that someone
familiar with what
the photograph depicts must testify that the photograph accurately
represents whatever it illustrates. This authenticator can be the
photographer, but it can also be anyone at all, as long as he or she is
familiar with the subject matter of the image. (See F.R.E. 901.)
Photographs have been used in American trials with frequency since the
1880s. In the nineteenth century, stereoscopic
images were also sometimes used as evidence.
Today, in addition to the photograph, videotapes and even computer simulations and animations are used in
What is our attraction to mechanical
objectivity? In what do we have faith, the camera or the eye?