Rethinking the Role of the Image in Justice: Visual Evidence and Science in the Trial Process

Posted: 10 Dec 2008

Date Written: 2007


Visual displays are increasingly important for presenting scientific evidence in the trial process. This paper engages with some of the arguments of Mnookin, Solomon and Feigenson in examining the challenges and paradoxes of scientific visual displays. The function of the display is ambiguous - is it a tool of logic to clarify arguments or an instrument of persuasion to sway the jury? The role of expert witnesses is also ambiguous - are they authoritative interpreters or teachers or do the displays speak for themselves? The answer to this varies between fingerprint, DNA and other forms of evidence. In a legal environment where disciplinary bodies and judges screen the scientific evidence that juries may see, the role of the jury is undergoing change. On the one hand, the judge rather than the jury may be making decisions about some of the potential facts of the case. On the other hand, the increasingly interactive nature of evidence makes it hard to control the interpretations placed on the information, and may allow juries to pursue their own enquiries. The paper argues for a holistic examination of the sensory environment of the trial including visual displays, but also the performances of the different participants, and the physical and symbolic environment of the courtroom.

Keywords: visual evidence, science, juries, interactive evidence

Suggested Citation

Tait, David, Rethinking the Role of the Image in Justice: Visual Evidence and Science in the Trial Process (2007). Law, Probability & Risk, Vol. 6, Issue 1-4, pp. 311-318, 2007, Available at SSRN: or

David Tait (Contact Author)

University of Canberra ( email )

Law Faculty
Canberra, ACT 2601

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