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Philadelphia-Computer-generated animations may be admissible as evidence in criminal trials, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in a case of first impression. The six justices who participated in deciding Commonwealth v. Serge did not all agree as to how trial courts should approach admitting computer-generated animation, or CGA, evidence. Discussion of the case prompted differing arguments from several justices concerning how CGA evidence should be treated with respect to motions in limine, jury instructions and indigent defendants. But all six concluded that Lackawanna County, Pa., Common Pleas Judge Terrence R. Nealon had properly admitted the CGA that was used in the winter 2002 first-degree murder prosecution of Michael Serge. System ‘must adapt’ “Society has become increasingly dependent upon computers in business and in our personal lives,” Justice Sandra Schultz Newman wrote in the lead opinion. “With each technological advancement, the practice of law becomes more sophisticated and, commensurate with this progress, the legal system must adapt,” Newman wrote. “Courts are facing the need to shed any technophobia and become more willing to embrace the advances that have the ability to enhance the efficacy of the legal system,” the justice added. Newman was joined by justices Thomas G. Saylor and Max Baer. Separate concurring opinions were filed by Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy and justices Ronald D. Castille and J. Michael Eakin. According to Newman’s opinion, Serge, a former lieutenant of detectives with the Scranton Police Department, was charged with the January 2001 fatal shooting of his wife, Jennifer. During the 2002 Serge trial, prosecutors from the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office showed the jury a CGA of the alleged crime in order to rebut Serge’s claims that he had shot his wife in self-defense when she came at him with a knife. The CGA in Serge, which was based on the findings of the prosecution’s forensic pathologist and crime scene reconstructionist, illustrated for the jury the prosecution’s version: that Serge had shot his wife first in the back, and then in the chest as she knelt on the floor of their home’s living room. Newman wrote that the CGA allowed the prosecution in Serge to “more concisely and more clearly present” the opinions of two experts via a single piece of evidence.

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