Laws of Evidence Photography

Written by marjorie a. burke
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Evidence photography can also be called crime scene or forensic photography. The purpose of evidence photography is to record the crime or accident scene as accurately as possible so that such evidence can be used in a court of law to assist a judge or jury in understanding what happened at the time of the incident.

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History

Louis Daguerre is considered the first to capture a photographic image and preserve it permanently; the result is what we know as the daguerreotype. Daguerre believed himself to be the creator of a chemically created, therefore, automatic, image that was not dependent on the memory of a human being, as a sketch or drawing would be. Many after him agreed, believing photography to be objective and incontrovertible in its accuracy.

Laws that Apply to Evidence Photography

The Federal Rules of Evidence were formulated in 1975 to govern the admissibility of evidence offered by both sides of a dispute into a court of law. In particular, Article X of the Federal Rules of Evidence covers the admissibility of photographic evidence. Key to admission of photographic evidence is its relevance and authentication, which may require the sworn testimony of the party requesting its admission. Among other things, the Federal Rules of Evidence also defines what an "original" and "duplicate" image are; these definitions are used frequently to determine how photographic records can be used in the legal process.

Regulated Types of Photographs

The Federal Rules of Evidence have long governed the use of film-based photography efficiently because of the difficulty of altering conventional photographs without detection. Digital photography has complicated the field of evidence photography because of the ease with which digital photos can be altered, not just by changing the colour and lighting but by adding or eliminating key elements of the photo.

An advisory group to the Federal Rules of Evidence has determined that changes to the Rules are not needed; that it is sufficient that judges have the discretion to determine the authenticity of digital photographs on an individual basis.

The Kelly-Frye Standard

The rules governing the admissibility of digital photographs as evidence have been challenged, but the Kelly-Frye standard first articulated in 1923 with regard to the results of a lie detector test has been applied and upheld; it maintains that digital photographs are accepted within the scientific community as proven methods of documentation and are therefore admissible.

Expert Insight

Steven Staggs, a forensic photography instructor with 29 years' law enforcement experience, offers a number of recommendations to crime scene photographers so their work is challenge-proof, including: develop a standard operating procedure on the use of imaging, including digital, film-based and videography; save original digital images to the hard drive or CD; retain the original file format; save digital files as read-only; and rename enhanced digital files.

Mr. Staggs also suggests that evidence photographers familiarise themselves with their state's rules of evidence with regard to photography. State rules of evidence are based on the Federal Rules of Evidence.

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