After bringing my computer and video equipment into a courtroom,
I've often held the door open for my client's opposing counsel as
they enter the courtroom with boxes and boxes of paper documents
and notebooks for the jury. One difference between my medium and
theirs is that the computer doesn't get any heavier the more
information is put into it.
Another difference: Multimedia presentations lighten the
information load and the trial process. Through imagery, you can
take the jury where you want it to go without leaving the room; you
can play a video of an expert witness without having to call him or
her in to court, saving significant dollars in travel and witness
fees; you can educate those in the courtroom on a complex medical
or mechanical matter where the eye cannot go, and you can show a
witness during the giving of a deposition, conveying key things
about the witness' demeanor and bearing, giving a picture far more
complete than a transcript alone.
Multimedia presentations have come into their own since the
early 1990s. Today's video-editing technology, which can be used by
even the most technologically-challenged, allows the litigator to
search transcripts, highlight specific testimony and create video
clips that can be played to dramatic effect.
Videotaped testimony is not only a time- and money-saver, it can
also be a very useful tool even when a witness will appear live
before the jury. Modern presentation tools make the editing and
playing of video clips almost instantaneous. This can be a powerful
tool at trial when a witness' answer on the stand differs from what
was said earlier under oath during discovery.
But video is only as powerful as good planning can make it. A
poor video distracts the audience from the message. Planning for an
audiovisual deposition requires thought to surroundings and the
demeanor of the witness. It must be conducted in a
distraction-free, well-lighted and quiet environment, with enough
space to accommodate the witness, a court reporter and counsel, and
a videographer with equipment. The witness should dress in a
comfortable but professional manner, as they would for an actual
court appearance. The same applies to cell phones and PDA devices,
which should be turned off. Witnesses should act naturally but
avoid exaggerated motions, and should allow time for an objection
to be lodged before answering a question.
Video formats have expanded far beyond the VHS tape. You have
your pick of CD-ROM, TV-DVD, Digital Video Transcript (DVT) disks,
and even streaming over a secure Internet connection.
The Digital Video Transcript is the most effective format for
trial use in an environment in which a judge may not rule on
evidence until the day it needs to be presented. In DVT, the
reporter's official transcript is synchronized to the video file,
allowing the search for segments to view without having to fast
forward or rewind a tape as the litigator finds the correct spot in
the paper record. Simply highlight the first line of testimony you
wish to view and double click on the highlight. The video will
automatically be cued up to that portion of the proceedings. Most
DVT disks contain software that allows keyword and index searches
and basic video editing functions, creating a clip that can be
viewed on the spot, can be exported into trial presentation or
multi-media presentation software, saved to a hard drive or
portable media for later viewing, or can be encoded into a file
small enough to be e-mailed to a client or colleague for
Video productions need not be costly and can be effective tools
in your arsenal.
That having been said, a professional videographer, particularly
someone who has been certified as a Legal Video Specialist (CLVS)
by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), can bring a
wealth of experience and knowledge to your projects, with their
technical expertise and knowledge of how to rig cameras to show
jurors what needs to be seen. A scrap of paper can be turned into a
chalkboard without the need of posterboards. Why single out 10 to
15 documents to make into boards, when electronic trial
presentation technology can make every document in your case 20
Computerized technology does not guarantee a successful trial
outcome, but it makes sense to use all available tools to your
advantage. If you don't, your opponent might.
Massachusetts courts present various presentation capabilities
which must be kept in mind when designing your evidence
presentation floor plan. Some buildings, such as the U.S. District
Court in Boston, have courtrooms equipped with state-of-the-art
presentation tools, including individual computer monitors in the
jury box, the bench and on counsel tables; telestrator touch-screen
monitors on the witness stand and counsel podium; and audio-visual
playback devices built in to the room.
In other venues, particularly at the state Superior Court level,
which have nothing except electrical outlets (and often, few of
them), display equipment must be brought in. The layout of the
courtroom also plays a role. Counsel may find itself limited in
space options in order to give jurors an unobstructed view of the
visual evidence. The most effective technology in these cases is
small video/computer projectors and large, portable movie screens,
which can be used in confined spaces and focus the jurors'
attention all in one place. Counsel can often control where the
members of the panel look, as well as the amount of time they spend
studying the evidence.
Positioning is important. We recommend placing the display
screen in the center of two other key elements in the room - the
witness stand and the attorney's podium. The ease of viewing for
the jury should be paramount in planning the equipment layout.
Video technology can help you bring to life your thoughts and
words and create a vivid image in the minds of your jurors. By
capturing their attention and teaching them everything they need to
make an informed, just decision, you will have done your job to the
best of your ability and find success in your endeavors.
Ian A. McWilliams, CLVS is a videographer,
trial presentation technician and consultant based in Brockton. He
does primarily civil work and has worked in venues throughout New
England. Please visit his webpage, www.newenglandtrialservices.com.