Monday, October 1, 2007

Courtroom Technology

Utilizing computer technology in the courtroom has been a hot topic for several years. However, the difficult part is taking your first plunge. During last week's criminal trial in Brazos County I experimented with several computer technologies that helped me communicate information and ideas to the jury. Using a laptop computer (MacBook Pro), scanner (HP), and projector (Dell), I accomplished some interesting (and eye pleasing) things during trial.

Before trial I scanned in all the documents I anticipated admitting into evidence. I also took the crime scene photographs on CD, provide through discovery, and downloaded them on to my laptop using iPhoto (Apple's bundled image viewer). In iPhoto I could manipulate and massage the images to my liking. However, I also needed a program to project individual images through my projector and onto the wall or projector screen. This type of program is referred to as an image (or photo) presenter. Not all image viewers, like iPhoto, include a presenter. The presenter was important since I wanted to view all my images on my courtroom laptop as thumbnails, but also view any individual image through the projector so I could easily work with it during direct or cross examination. For my Mac I chose "Photo Presenter." This program was very simple and helped me sift through all my scanned documents and photographs and project them onto the wall anytime, seamlessly.

The next program I used was Apple's Keynote. Keynote is like Microsoft's PowerPoint. These presentation programs are great for creating slides for voir dire, opening statement, or closing argument. You can easily import photographs or documents from anywhere on your computer and use them to aid in your trial presentation. During jury selection I created about 4 slides to help illustrate a few points to the jury. During closing arguments I took documents I had scanned, and later admitted into evidence, and created slides to highlight certain parts of the documents. I was able to underline sentences, paragraphs, and individual words to compliment my argument and help the jury quickly see what I wanted them to see.

The trick to becoming comfortable with the technology was getting over to the courthouse the day before trial and setting everything up for a test run. I made sure the extension cords were long enough, that the electrical sockets worked, and that the jury could see my projections from anywhere they might be in courtroom. It worked great! The added benefit was the wireless network at the courthouse which allowed me to stay in contact with my office assistant using email. I could solve office problems and give guidance while busy all day in trial. Since I always eat my lunch in the courtroom during trial to prepare for the afternoon session, I also relaxed while listening to the music of my choice through my computer's media player.

I was very pleased with my first run using sophisticated computer technology during trial. There were a couple bugs I need to work out, but I am looking forward to the next time I can use my laptop and projector to assist me in the courtroom.

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