In the case of Johnson v. Smith, an ambulance driver drove his vehicle into the rear panel of another driver’s vehicle. This occurred in the drive-through lane of a Taco Bell. The defendant ambulance driver was determined to be at fault and lost at trial. On appeal, the defendants urged that certain pictures that had been deemed inadmissible at trial were crucial to their case. They claimed that it constituted reversible error on the part of the trial court not to admit the photographs in question. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s opinion.
The first reason for the appellate court’s decision on the matter of the admissibility of the photographs was that the photographs were not properly authenticated. While the law does not require photographs to be perfect representations of what they stand for, there is a standard that must be met. Photographs must be “sufficiently correct” before being admitted at trial. A trial court is permitted to admit photographs that have inaccuracies as long as the inaccuracies are explained. In this case, the police officer who was attempting to authenticate the photographs as taken by him may or may not have appeared in one of the photographs. This put the true origin of the photographs into question for the trial court. Because evidentiary rulings of a trial court are given great deference on appeal, the appellate court would only have disturbed this finding if it had found an abuse of discretion. Finding no such abuse of discretion, the court did not reverse on these grounds.
Another interesting reason for the appellate court’s decision in this case is that the court did not find that the photographs, if admitted, would have been at all helpful to the defendants who were urging the admission of those photographs. The court noted that the photographs may have been helpful to the plaintiffs in this case but found that the photographs would not have advanced the cause of the defendants. This type of harmless error is not going to result in a new trial for an aggrieved party. The appellate court found that the only real purpose that these photographs served was to establish the identity of the vehicles involved in this accident. None of the parties to the suit disputed the identity of the vehicles involved in the underlying accident.
Because evidence is how a case is proven, it is important to argue any evidentiary rulings in a case zealously at trial. There are many cases in which a particular piece of evidence can make or break one side or the other’s theory of the case. These photographs were not truly crucial to the defendants’ case and perhaps it was not even worth appealing the case on that issue. However, had the trial court been deemed to have misapplied the law or the rules of evidence to the detriment of the losing party, a new trial would have been granted at which the law could be applied correctly. This case did not turn on the admissibility of these particular photographs. The result likely would have been the same had they been admitted. However, authenticating evidence correctly is important because the same principles of evidence apply to unimportant photographs as apply to key documents or testimony.
Getting the evidence that proves your theory of the case in front of the jury or to be considered by the judge is necessary in order to be successful at trial. The only way to do this is by laying the appropriate foundation for both your testimony and your exhibits. Properly authenticating testimony and exhibits is crucial to successful trial strategy.
If you have been injured in an accident and need someone to help you prove it to a judge or jury, call the Berniard Law Firm, toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 for expert legal advice.