Trials & Litigation

Judicial committee advances proposal to regulate the use of visual aids at federal trials

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A proposed rule that would regulate the use of visual aids during federal trials has won approval from the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules.

The proposal directs trial courts to use a balancing test when deciding whether to allow visual aids. The proposal will now be forwarded to a standing committee for consideration, reports.

The proposed rule states that courts may allow parties to present illustrative aids to help the trier of fact understand admitted evidence or a party’s argument if its usefulness “is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay or wasting time.”

Illustrative aids are not evidence and should not be provided to juries during deliberations, unless all parties consent or there is good cause, the proposal says.

A comment to the rule defines an illustrative aid as information offered for the narrow purpose of helping the trier of fact understand what is being communicated by a witness or party presenting evidence or argument.

“Examples include blackboard drawings, photos, diagrams, video depictions, charts, graphs and computer simulations,” according to a comment to the rule.

An earlier version of the proposal required parties to give reasonable advance notice if they wanted to use a visual aid. But that requirement was dropped after receiving criticism from lawyers who said it could prove unworkable because visual aids may be created in response to trial developments, according to

The comment to the revised proposal says trial judges will be able to decide “whether, when and how to require advance notice of an illustrative aid.”

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