Holograms in the courtroom? Tech advances march on

By Lauren Kirkwood
The Daily Record Newswire

BALTIMORE - An animation of a skeleton, projected on a screen in a courtroom, hovers in front of the jury. The plaintiff's lawyer zooms in on a fractured bone while the physician testifying as a witness explains the details of the injury.

This scenario is becoming more and more common in the courtroom, according to panelists at the Maryland State Bar Association's annual meeting on Thursday. Visual elements that go beyond basic photographs and documents are now essential components of trial lawyers' arguments, and they've become increasingly accessible, said James O'Conor Gentry, an attorney with Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore, during the session hosted by the Young Lawyers Section.

"There's a lot of animation out there that doesn't cost anything," Gentry said. "If I'm thinking, 'I want to be able to explain to the jurors in my opening statement how an open heart surgery looks, where the incision is made, what the heart looks like and a little bit of the anatomy,' there are animations out there that can be used."

From basic timelines and charts to aerial maps and simulations, a tablet like an iPad is often all attorneys need to access software that will provide compelling visuals, Gentry said. Apps like Essential Anatomy and Visible Body, for example, are invaluable in medical malpractice cases where doctors on the witness stand are explaining complex medical procedures to the jury, he said.

"Trial lawyers are storytellers; they're teachers," Gentry said. "Their audience is the jury. I think we all recognize the fact that we learn best by what we see. My guess is that probably some years ago, if a lawyer showed a PowerPoint presentation, the lawyers 20 years ago said, 'Oh, you could never do that in the courtroom.' I can foresee one day using holograms in the courtroom."

Even though visual presentations have become more commonplace at trial, it's important to consider how they might impact a jury - and potential objections that a judge might have, said Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Mickey J. Norman.

"From an evidentiary point of view, these kinds of presentations are obviously extremely compelling, but one of the things about technology that makes it attractive is also one of the hurdles you have to overcome," Norman said. "You see in case law around the country a concern that the technology that is being used is potentially misleading because it's overwhelming."

The difference between animations and simulations comes into play here, panelists said. With an animation, the attorney might use technology to demonstrate a medical procedure while a physician explains the process. In the case of a simulation, "this is where the computer's going to speak to the jurors and tell the jurors how it happened," Gentry said, such as a program that simulates a car accident.

"The overriding concern a judge has is that the evidence that's being presented is inaccurate or, while it may well be accurate, that it is too compelling - that the jury will tend to lose focus on the issue," Norman said.

It's important to keep the "flashy" elements of the visual presentation to a minimum to ensure the technology is actually helping the jurors understand the facts of the case, he said.

Other visuals that aren't as tech-based can boost an argument by adding emotional impact, such as "day in the life" videos of the victim in a catastrophic injury case, panelists said. Seeing firsthand the difficulty an accident victim has performing everyday tasks is often more powerful than hearing those struggles described, Norman said.

While the basic rule of "show, don't tell" is ingrained in most trial lawyers' minds, Gentry said, many attorneys don't realize the potential for using apps and new technologies to take those visuals to the next level.

"Part of your job is to entertain. That doesn't mean you're up on stage singing and dancing, but if jurors are not entertained, they're not going to learn, and if they don't learn, they're not going to be convinced," Gentry said. "If you want to enhance their learning, give them a visual."

Published: Mon, Jun 15, 2015


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