Iycee Charles de Gaulle Summary Filmic evidence Essay

Filmic evidence Essay

            The aim of this paper is to outline a nitty-gritty detail of how filmic evidence is being viewed in legal system and how it has reshape litigation in the 21st century. This paper will used Rodney King’s case as major literature, and eventually explicate how such case paved the way for the admissibility of video utilization as evidence in court trials.

            According to approximately 100 states and legal cases since 1923 up to this present time, “the law explains how the source of these contradictions is the frequent miscategorization of film as demonstrative evidence that purports to illustrate other evidence, rather than to be directly probative of some fact at issue”.[1]

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Rodney King Trial: The Dawn of Filmic Evidence

“The errors here involved . . . permitting the plaintiff to convert the court into a ‘movie’ picture theater . . . . Doubtless the show was highly entertaining to the jury, but entertainment of the jury is no function of a trial” [Hadrian et al v. Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Co., 1 N.W.2d 755, 758 (Wis. 1942)].[2]

The foregoing may not explain why the Rodney King verdict went against common sense logic (and reflected the racist agenda of the defense, as well as the confusion and racism of the jury), but it suggests that information can always be manipulated to suit goals and assumptions that have little to do with the image. If the image is taken as the only arbiter of the process, chances are that we will continue to confuse information and communication as if they transparently reflect the same level of organization and structure, the same intent and meaning.

Debates of a similar kind arose when photography was first used in trials as evidence of a crime. Many questions were raised, not the least of which was possible tampering with the image. The point here is that the image can be challenged in a courtroom to the same degree and using similar premises to the challenge thrown out at a witness. Similar levels of subjectivity can be suggested. And as the transcripts of the first King trial reveal, the credibility of the image can be attacked. Essentially, the defense toyed with questions surrounding information and communication by introducing so many levels of interpretation to the image that the jury was dissuaded from taking the beating at face value. Yet this is precisely the paradox and the motor force of communicative processes through images. They can be taken at face value or not. In the final analysis, a jury could not have settled this question and consequently, it was left up to the community to prevail—a necessary yet brutal form of popular justice.[3]

Yet at the very same time, as any television viewer and moviegoer knows, we also exist in an era in which there is a remarkable hunger for documentary images of the real. These images proliferate in the vérité of on-the-scene cops programs in which the camera eye merges with the eye of the law to observe the violence citizens do to one another. Violence becomes the very emblem of the real in these programs. Interestingly, violent trauma has become the emblem of the real in the new vérité genre of the independent amateur video, which, in the case of George Holliday’s tape of the Rodney King beating by L.A. police, functioned to contradict the eye of the law and to intervene in the “cops'” official version of King’s arrest. This home video might be taken to represent the other side of the postmodern distrust of the image: here the camera tells the truth in a remarkable moment of cinema vérité which then becomes valuable (though not conclusive) evidence in accusations against the L.A. Police Department’s discriminatory violence against minority offenders.

The contradictions are rich: on the one hand the postmodern deluge of images seems to suggest that there can be no a priori truth of the referent to which the image refers; on the other hand, in this same deluge, it is still the moving image that has the power to move audiences to a new appreciation of previously unknown truth.

The Debate

“The films illustrate, better than words, the impact the injury has had on the plaintiff’s life in terms of pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. While the scenes are unpleasant, so is plaintiff’s injury” [Grimes v. Employers Mutual Liability Ins. Co., 73 F.R.D. 607, 610 (D. Ala. 1977)].[4]

            The naissance of filmic evidence brought a major debate, which asks the question whether the admission of filmic evidence in litigation is taken as demonstrative or substantive evidence. The former is construe as solely based on the precedents and references provided by the Advisory Committee of any legislative body. Hence, we can conclude that demonstrative evidence “most often identifiable in its difference from other kinds of evidentiary proffers” (Silbey, 2004). Contrariwise, substantive evidence concerns itself with testimonials from the primary witness and secondary witnesses, as well as, the documents such that have presented as evidence. It should be noted that both of these evidence typologies is not the same as the real evidence because the latter is more tangible than the two, and this is considered as hard facts. The role of demonstrative evidence is to show or to illustrate how things happen, in order to concretize the validity of real evidence. We can infer then, that filmic evidence falls under the category of demonstrative evidence because it provides visual illustration of how things transpired, or how a specific testimony happens.

            The dichotomization of demonstrative evidence from real evidence purports one major issue especially if the former is taken in form of multimedia such film or video. The issue is apparent, even if crime or any act of wrongdoing is captured by the camera; such recordings regardless of its accuracy will not be taken as hard facts because in litigation, demonstrative evidence is not tantamount to truth. As Brain and Broderick explains it, “demonstrative evidence and real evidence are quite different in their proffered use at trial. Real evidence is used to help prove directly the existence of a fact of consequence in the action, whereas demonstrative proof is only offered derivatively, to help explain other admissible evidence” (Ibid.). This precept is the major argument provided in King’s trial that lead to the discounting of the video that encapsulates the police brutality he endured.

Notes:

[1] Silbey, Jessica M, Judges as Film Critics: New Approaches to Filmic Evidence. Suffolk University Law School Faculty Publications. Suffolk University Law School, p. 492.
[2] Taken from Silbey’s Judges as Film Critics: New Approaches to Filmic Evidence p. 494.
[3] For further detail on the Rodney King debate see, Judith Butler, “Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,” Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams (New York: Routledge, 1993), 15–22.
[4] Taken from Silbey’s Judges as Film Critics: New Approaches to Filmic Evidence, p. 494.