Printing a Verdict -- The Power of 3D Printed Evidence at Trial

By Annie Dike, Esq.

Remember those little shoebox dioramas you had to make for school?  The scene could be indoors, outdoors, a depiction of nature or re-creation of a scene from a book, but it was a little three-dimensional realm created purely out of toothpicks, cotton balls and Elmer’s glue.  Have you ever thought of making one to show to the jury?  Probably not.  Toothpicks and glue may seem a little amateur.  But, technology has come a long way.  We can now “print” high-quality, professional models of any scene with mind-blowing accuracy to size, dimension and scale.  Imagine a 3D model of a gas thruster for a satellite in a patent infringement case that the jury can hold in their hands and pass around the box, viewing it from every angle.  What was once incomprehensible for the average juror is now seen, felt and vividly understood.  A single piece of evidence like that can mean the difference between a verdict and a loss.

While 3D printed diorama-type scenes are useful, they are by far not the most prevalent use of 3D printing in the courtroom today.  Objects are, and the possibilities are seemingly endless.  A 3D model could be made of a highly technical product, say a thermal heat conductor, and used to show the minute, subtle differences, perhaps thickness of an insulating layer, in two competing designs.  Products that were once too small to comprehend can now be printed to magnified proportions.  A single cell in a solar panel can be printed to the size of a cereal box to teach the jury how the crystalline silicon inside the cell works.  The better the jury’s understanding of the device or product at issue, the more likely they will be to comprehend and spot an infringement.  Previously, 3D demonstrative exhibits like this had to be hand-crafted--a tedious and costly endeavor.  Now, a digital model is made and an exact, to-scale replica is printed at startlingly low cost.

Another fascinating use of 3D printing is the replication of objects that were previously impossible to create and hold in the palm of your hand.  Take, your heart for example--and, not just a replica of a human heart, but your heart, the very one currently beating in your chest, complete with its many unique flaws and characteristics.  MRIs and CT-Scan images can be converted to a digital blueprint for a 3D printed model of an organ.  In a product liability case, a printed model can be used to show how a particular defect in a patient’s organ could not be resolved by insertion of an artery stent.  A human bone can be printed and drilled to show the subtle differences between the threads of a patented medical screw compared to a generic competitor.  Flat x-ray images will never be able to compete with the persuasive power of an actual and accurate human replica the jury can pass around the box, inspect, handle, and view.  Like it or not, technology is playing a growing role in how cases are won or lost.

As a result, many 3D print companies are cropping up as well, boasting the specific and unique skill of replicating quality, persuasive evidence for trial--3D Printed Evidence, 3D Printed Proof, C3DE--to name a few.  They also claim the cost of 3D printed evidence is not astronomical but, rather, is actually comparable to the printing of high-quality gloss charts and demonstrative aids for trial.  Starting at $599.99, C3DE can design and print not just 3D models, but, “economical, precise compelling evidence” for your upcoming trial.  If a picture is worth a thousands words, they claim, a 3D model is worth a million.  Some attorneys, however, may shy away from printed evidence, believing a jury may find it suspicious or anticipating issues with admissibility if they cannot prove the printing process meets industry standards.  If the goal is to keep the evidence simple and straightforward, traditionalists may view printed evidence as too “new-fangled” to work.

What do you think Bullseye followers?  Is 3D printed evidence something you want to explore?  Have you seen it used yet in trial?  Do you find 3D evidence to be accurate or do you see the potential for it to be so graphic or overwhelming that it might overcome reason?  IMS is here to find experts, spot trends and listen to you.  Let us know what you think of this new ‘printed persuasion’ trend.


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Annie Dike, Esq.

As a former trial and litigation attorney, Annie Dike has a keen eye for expert evidentiary issues and a clear voice for practical solutions.  Annie is a published author of both fiction, non-fiction, and a comprehensive legal practitioner's guide to hourly billing published by LexisNexis. Annie graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law cum laude.  While in law school, she served as Vice President of both the Bench and Bar Legal Honor Society and the Farrah Law Society and was a member of the Alabama Trial Advocacy Competition Team as well as Lead Articles Editor of The Journal of the Legal Profession.  Ms. Dike has published articles in The Alabama Lawyer and DRI MedLaw Update and has spoken on numerous legal issues at various conferences nationwide.

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