Permission To Approach The Accident Scene, Your Honor

Butler Snow LLP

Butler Snow LLP

What if your case involves an accident where one of the key contributing factors to the subject event was the location where the incident occurred? For example a car wreck that occurred on the down slope of a hill crest, or a motorcycle/automobile collision at an intersection with an alleged blind spot. In all of these scenarios, and far too many to mention here, the location, and more specifically the features of the location were critical components that directly impacted the subject incident.

If faced with a similar scenario, how should one present this information to a jury? Pictures and videos are the first medium that come to mind. And now with enhanced graphics, 3-D scans, and the affordability of animation technology, these too are potentially viable and effective options. Yet, what if the full scope and scale of the terrain and surrounding topography cannot be captured with a photo, or accurately recreated with computer software. If this is the case, perhaps the answer may be to adopt a more hands-on approach – request a jury viewing.

In Mississippi, the law provides parties the opportunity to request a jury viewing when this would aid the fact finder in evaluating the location where a critical fact occurred, or other key components of evidence are located. See Miss. Code Ann. § 13-5-91. The relevant passage provides:

When, in the opinion of the court, on the trial of any cause, civil or criminal, it is proper, in order to reach the ends of justice, for the court and jury to have a view or inspection of the property which is the subject of litigation, or the place at which the offense is charged to have been committed, or the place or places at which any material fact occurred, or of any material object or thing in any way connected with the evidence in the case, the court may, at its discretion, enter an order providing for such view or inspection as is herein below directed….

Miss. Code Ann. § 13-5-91 (emphasis added)

It goes without saying that the decision to allow a jury viewing is entirely discretionary and rests solely in the hands of the trial court. See Smith v. State, 839 So. 2d 489 (Miss. 2003). However, where the evidence at issue would be incomplete or not given its full context if limited to a two-dimensional image, then a compelling motion may encourage a trial court to allow an inspection of the property at issue. Myriad examples come to mind where a jury viewing would be beneficial, but a number of factors must be considered before pursuing this course.  Such as, the jury’s mode of transportation, distance to be traveled, current conditions of the subject location and a host of other variables. That said, despite the numerous factors weighing against requesting a jury viewing, it may be the only method to allow the jury a chance to observe the whole picture and not just pixels on a page.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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