What makes evidence credible? This question is central to the operation of a legal system because it has so much to do with winning or losing a case. Credibility often hinges on semiotic elements of a trial that are not recognized by law, but which every lawyer recognizes as crucial to the presentation of a case. This semiotic dimension of a case is generally perceived as notoriously unpredictable in its impact. Judges and juries can bestow credibility or withhold it based on a witness's sweating brow, fidgeting hands, tone of voice, the racial and gender characteristics of every person involved in a case, the demeanor and dress of every lawyer, of each defendant. While lawyers pay lip service to the ideal of arguing the evidence of a case to a reasonable conclusion, what lawyers hope for is some incontrovertible evidence that stops the debate, a "smoking gun" that dismisses doubt and shuts down the semiotic play that can influence or even determine credibility.
Recommended CitationKibbey, A., The Semiotics of Photographic Evidence, Law Text Culture, 5, 2000.