Case Summary of Cases Involving Photographic Evidence: Relevant, Material, and More Probative than Inflammatory Photographic Evidence Cases

Death penalty map
Death penalty map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Elizabeth Hall
Ever since the photograph has been used as evidence rules have had to be set to ensure the validity and relevance of evidence such as this (Robinson, 2010).  Often individual defendants challenge the use of evidence particularly when the photographs are gruesome and may change juror opinion due to shock value.  In the following cases, Hoskins v. State   Johnny HOSKINS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee, No.  SC05-28, and People v. Bonilla (2007) 41 Cal, 4th 313, 60 Cal. Rptr.3rd 209; 160 P.3d 84 this was the case (FindLaw 2012, & FindLaw 2, 2012).  These cases deal with relevance, material, and, whether or not the photographic evidence is more probative than inflammatory.  We will discuss the rulings, and how current legal standards apply to them.
Hoskins v. State   Johnny HOSKINS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.  No.  SC05-28.  April 19, 2007. 
 According to FindLaw (2012), this case involves a defendant’s death sentence appeal, and among other issues raised the question on whether or not the trial court should have let his attorney show autopsy photos during Voir Dire. The claim was that because this was a death penalty case, the photographs should have been shown to potential jurors to ascertain whether they would cause them to vote yes for the death penalty.  The trial judge did not allow the photos shown, instead orally described them.  On appeal, since every death penalty case automatically goes to appellate court, Hoskins’ attorney argued that the penalty portion of the case was affected as reported by FindLaw (2012).

People v. Bonilla (2007) 41 Cal, 4th 313, 60 Cal. Rptr.3rd 209; 160 P.3d 84.
FindLaw 2 (2012) reports that this case involves eight photographs and their admittance during the voir dire phase of a first degree murder trial.  Bonilla’s defense council argued that the photos were not relevant extremely inflammatory, too gruesome, and cumulative, which would affect the juror’s opinion negatively denying his right to a fair trial implying that they would incur him the death penalty.  The photos were of the victim’s remains, which were mummified by that time and were shot at the gravesite where the body was found notes FindLaw 2 (2012). 
Current Legal Standards
Robinson (2010) holds that in order for a photograph to be admissible as evidence certain criteria must apply to the image. Because photographic images that are used for court purposes are expected to be accurate representations of the crime scene and evidence found there can sway the outcome of the trial, the photographer must take care to make sure they all fall in the scope of the Federal Rules of Evidence.  Any photographic evidence submitted in a court of law must follow these guidelines including standards for relevancy, representation, focus, material, recreations, and prejudicial value.  Relevancy and material go hand in hand. 
A photo is relevant if it “proves or disproves any disputed fact in the case”; Robinson (2010) goes on to say that, the Federal Rules of Evidence also state that the evidence must some probative value to the issue at hand.  Material evidence must also prove or disprove a material fact or issue in the case. It must also have more than a “remote” relation to the issues of the case.   The prosecution also cannot introduce photographs into evidence simply to inflame the jury by the sight, but must have a valid reason that it relative to the court case.
An inflammatory photo may falsely prejudice the jury against the defendant and may be excluded from the initial trial, but could still be admitted during the penalty phase of the trial (Robinson, 2010).  An example of this would be an accident shot, with a ruler for scaling, which serves as a fair and accurate representation of the scene that clearly shows victim injuries while the medical specialist discusses the injuries. The picture could also be submitted in black and white to devalue the shock while maintaining evidentiary value.  Robinson (2010) states that recreations and black and white imaging are allowed, and that for recreations the fact that this is not an original must not be hidden from the courts.  This concerns more probative than prejudicial rules of evidence as well, and the accident shot, now considered more probative than prejudiced because the photographer had included scaling evidence, shows proof of size and type of injury as the pathologist explains the effects.  Another rule is that the shot must represent a fair and accurate representation of the scene which mens that it must not be altered, taken away from, added to, or retouched in any fashion (Robinson, 2010).
Conclusion- The Rulings
Robinson (2010) holds that the ruling on the People v. Bonilla (2007) 41 Cal, 4th 313, 60 Cal. Rptr.3rd 209; 160 P.3d 84., in which the objection was during the penalty phase, and the photos that were cumulative had been excluded from the trial phase already, as twelve were entered and eight were selected.  The court ruled that the photos were admissible overruling the objections citing relevant case law to back the decision.  People v. Roldan (2005) 35 Cal.4th 646,713., and People v. Garule (2002) 28 Cal.4th 557,624.  uphold that the trial judge had great discretion in the case (FindLaw 2, 2012).  At the penalty phase, the prosecution has already proved that the defendant committed the crime so evidence would not be excluded simply because they were gruesome.  This is also along with the decision as to the exclusion for unnecessary prejudice, as stated by Evidence Code section 352, that trial judges’ rulings must be upheld unless more prejudice than probative applies clearly, according to FindLaw 2 (2012). 
The photos were ruled relevant as they showed factual evidence of what happened to the victim during the commission of the crime.  This also reinforces the testimony given by the other criminal present during the crime.  People v. Moon, supra, 37 Cal.4th at p.35. upholds that murder is gruesome, and the medical professional while explaining his statements used the photos.  This applies that they were more probative than prejudiced and cumulative factors were decided at trial. 
In the Hoskins v. State   Johnny HOSKINS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.  No.  SC05-28.  April 19, 2007., the court’s ruling on the matter of showing potential jurors in a homicide case during voir dire pictures of mummified remains at a gravesite and inquiring whether they would sway their opinion on the death penalty citing that the defense cited no previous case law, that no discretionary rules were crossed (FindLaw, 2012).  The trial court had allowed testimony about the photos at voir dire but not allowed the photos and under State v. Thibodeaux, 728 So.2d 416, 422.  that is acceptable.  The use of the photographs during the voir dire portion of the trial would have made a “fair and impartial jury” nearly impossible.  By allowing the defense to ask about the jurors’ reactions to gory, gruesome photographs, the court did not impede the jury selection. 

FindLaw (2012).  Hoskins v. State   Johnny HOSKINS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.  No.  SC05-28.  Retrieved From: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/fl-supreme-court/1148880.html
FindLaw 2 (2012).  People v. Bonilla (2007) 41 Cal, 4th 313, 60 Cal. Rptr.3rd 209; 160 P.3d 84.  Retrieved From: http://login.findlaw.com/scripts/callaw?dest=ca/cal4th/41/313.html

Robinson, E.M., (2010).  Crime Scene Photography: Second Edition.  Boston, Elsevier, Academic Press. 

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