Photogrammetry for the Win!… If you know what it does.

Photogrammetry for the Win!… If you know what it does.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (“FRE”) are notorious for their complication. Hearsay Rules continue to astound attorneys across the country. Now, in a more modern era, we have the advanced electronics capable of aiding the evidentiary process in many ways. But with a jury of lay people, it is difficult to describe the use of such equipment during a trial without the use of an expert witness.

FRE 702 embodies two primary criteria for the allowance of expert testimony. That is, a district court must determine whether proffered expert scientific testimony is 1) relevant and 2) reliable. Specifically, the Rule provides: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the

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evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

In a 1994 case, Defendant, Quinn, was convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California of two counts of armed bank robbery and two counts of using firearms during a crime of violence. Quinn subsequently appealed, particularly challenging the admissibility of the government’s expert testimony. Specifically, the government’s expert witness testified to his use of “photogrammetry” to render an opinion as to the height of the individual in surveillance photographs from the robbery in question. By analyzing two photographs, an FBI Agent concluded and testified that the Berkeley robber was between 5′3″ and 5′6″ tall. Quinn is 5′5″ tall. The Court clearly determined that under the FRE 702 standard, this was ‘relevant’ as to the identification of the robber.

To determine the perpetrator’s height, the Agent used a process in which a formula is derived by measuring the change in the dimensions of objects in a photograph as they move away from the camera. After testing the formula against objects of known dimensions in the photograph, the Agent was able to make an estimate of the robber’s height. But was this, in fact, ‘reliable’? The Court allowed the prosecution to discuss the process used with a photogrammetry, and after hearing the government’s proffer, the court concluded that the process used by the Agent was nothing more than a series of computer-assisted calculations that did not involve any novel or questionable scientific techniques. Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the expert’s testimony regarding use of “photogrammetry” to render an opinion as to the height of individual in a bank surveillance photograph was admissible.

Comments (3):

  1. The whole concept of photogrammetry is actually fascinating. So frequently, technology is used in novel ways to “solve cases.” But I often question their reliability and predictability, especially in a criminal law context. I also wonder about their accuracy, as in this case there is a 3 inch height range, which to me seems like a fairly large range and too much to make it a good predictor.

  2. It’s interesting that the court found that there were no novel or questionable techniques involved in this case. If you ask me a “series of computer assisted calculations” sounds questionable sounds rather questionable. The fact the court found that this technology was reliable is troublesome because the only information the photogrammerty was able to discern was a range of the defendant’s height. In the event there was more concrete evidence then the outcome of this case is not so disturbing. However, if photogrammetry was the best evidence the prosecution had then its questionable whether that is a fair outcome. Photogrammetry given the imprecise results seems anything but reliable.

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