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EXPLAINER: Courtroom technology on display in Chauvin trial
AP Apr 9, 2021 5 days ago
FILE - In this May 25, 2020 file image from Minneapolis city surveillance video, Minneapolis police are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn. The video was shown as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presided on Monday, March 29, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the death of Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool, File)
In this image from video, Dr. Martin Tobin regards the screen in front on him as he testifies Thursday, April 8, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
In this image taken from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson questions witness Los Angeles police department Sergeant Jody Stiger, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
Large screens or projectors are fixtures of modern courtrooms, alongside software similar to PowerPoint designed for courtroom presentation of videos, photos and other evidence. But the quality of that technology and attorneys' use of it varies.
They have used a picture-in-picture feature to play cellphone videos of Floyd and the officers beside an uninterrupted feed of the street from a surveillance camera, giving jurors a view from multiple perspectives and clarifying the context of the bystander videos.
The pandemic has forced many courts to quickly embrace technology, and some hope those positive experiences will inspire more attorneys to use tech tools as they return to courtrooms.
But many attorneys don't have the time and resources to prepare a presentation to the level of detail seen in the Chauvin case, said Jessica Silbey, a professor at the Boston University School of Law.
Michael Moore, the Beadle County State’s Attorney in eastern South Dakota, said cost is the top deterrent for many attorneys, followed by discomfort.
Moore said he frequently uses software to create timelines, display documents and other visual evidence in cases. He believes it's easier for jurors to follow his arguments and it saves time at trial compared to old-school handouts of photos or documents.
But more often than not, Moore said, courtrooms are not “wired” for lawyers who embrace such tools. Moore brings his own flat screen monitor to some trials to ensure jurors have a good view.
It's difficult to know how many courthouses in the U.S. can accommodate such technology.
Fred Lederer, director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology at William & Mary Law School, said decisions about purchasing the equipment — which has been around since the early 1990s — often involve judges and court administrators, local elected officials and IT staff, and can be “immensely complicated.”
Lawyers arguing a case involving critical video evidence cannot assume that everyone views it through the same lens. Silbey said. They have to focus jurors’ attention by slowing footage down, circling or highlighting an event, and narrating what is happening.
“Lawyers make a mistake if they assume people see what they see and that the video speaks for itself,” Silbey said.
People understand and remember information more easily when it's accompanied by a visual aid, Lederer said.
“Presenting information visually enables judges and jurors to better understand what’s happening,” he said. “And from a lawyer's standpoint, if you have good evidence, you can persuade better.”
Attorneys have to walk a rigid line, though. One memorable misstep triggered a New Jersey Supreme Court review and led justices to overturn a bank robbery conviction in January.