Resources on Courtroom Technology
Videoconferencing / Appeals
Videoconferencing / Criminal
Animations, Simulations, and Immersive Virtual Environment Technology
Participants in the July 2001 Research Conference gave high priority to research on the impact of Courtroom use of animations, simulations, and immersive virtual environment technology. Below we provided background information regarding our work to date.
Computer animations and simulations are computer-generated productions that represent the operation of some scientific principle or the recreation of events at issue in a case. They are increasingly being offered as substantive and demonstrative evidence in courtrooms around the country. The technology can make difficult concepts or mechanical events easier to visualize and understand, and can allow jurors to see things that would otherwise be impossible to illustrate. They also may provide a neat, comprehensive summary of all the expert testimony that the jury has heard.
Immersive virtual environment technology (also commonly referred to as virtual reality) will no doubt make its way into the courtroom (or, at least, to the courtroom door) in the relatively near future. This technology would allow the judge, jurors, and witnesses to experience a re-creation as if they were really there. A defense attorney, for example, could place jurors in the position of an eyewitness to a crime to demonstrate that the witness was too far from the crime to accurately identify the perpetrator.
Both technologies, to differing extents, alter the nature of the fact-finder's task. Instead of simply hearing a witness's account of an event and perhaps viewing some supporting diagrams, photographs, or physical evidence, the fact-finder can experience those events, either by watching an animation on a monitor or by interacting with the three dimensional virtual environment created by technology. In the current system, the witness is the mediator between the subject of testimony and the fact-finder. Virtual reality and, to a lesser extent, animations and simulations, come close to replacing the fact-finder's somewhat detached objectiveness with subjective experience.
Little research has examined the effects of animations on the trial process and on juror decision-making, and none has examined the effects of immersive virtual environment technology. Without a reliable understanding of the effects of these technologies, policy-makers will be less able to assess whether additional evidentiary rules covering these methods of communication are needed, and judges in individual cases will be less able to estimate the probative or prejudicial effects of the evidence.
To help determine what evidentiary rules are appropriate and how they could be applied in individual cases, the first studies should consider:
All other things being equal, do jurors accord evidence presented via animation or simulation more or less weight than evidence presented via other means in rendering their verdicts? What about evidence presented via immersive virtual reality technology?
What emotional impact do animations, simulations, and virtual reality displays have on jurors? Under what circumstances does their emotional impact render them unduly prejudicial?
Do judicial admonitions reduce the potentially prejudicial effects of these technologies? What other factors might moderate their effects?
What do the courts need to know about the technologies, and people's responses to those technologies, in order to make determinations of admissibility? Should the admissibility standard differ by situations (e.g., for civil versus criminal trials)?
Work to Date
Conference materials about animations and simulations and IVET
The Center collaborated in April 2002 with the Courtroom 21 Project of the University of William and Mary Law School in conducting a mock trial to examine the use of immersive virtual environment technology (IVET). The Center contracted with researchers at the
Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior
to develop a functioning evidentiary exhibit using immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) and to demonstrate the exhibit at during a mock trial at Courtroom 21. The purpose of the demonstration was to highlight possible cognitive and psychological issues that are inherent in the use of IVET exhibits and how these issues intersect with the Rules of Evidence and Procedure and traditions of the trial process. The
Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior
is located at the University of California - Santa Barbara. (
A Description of the mock case
Pictures of the mock trial and IVET exhibit. [forthcoming]
The Center also has contracted with researchers at the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior to write a paper about using IVET exhibits at trial either as evidence or as illustrative aids. A draft of the paper is now being finalized and will be posted on this website when it is complete.
The paper will review the social and cognitive psychological issues surrounding the use of IVE exhibits during pretrial and trial, and explore how these issues intersect with the Federal Rules of Evidence and Procedure. It will begin with an introduction to the science of immersive virtual environment technology, describing the extent to which IVEs realistically represent the five senses and how IVEs are being used in medicine, psychology, communications, and business. It will then describe the ways in which IVEs could be used in the legal system, and whether IVE technology-in its current state of development and in the future-is up to the task. One use, for example, would be to recreate crime and accident scenes to: (1) demonstrate physical facts of the case as one party purports them to be, and (2) demonstrate the emotional state of the defendant (was it really self-defense), witness (would the average person have been able to remember the reported details under stress), and victim (what type of emotional distress did the victim suffer). IVE could also be used to (1) provide the testimony of remote witnesses, (2) prepare witnesses for trial, and (3) promote pretrial settlement through a shared understanding of case strength.
The paper will then turn to the potential limitations of using IVEs in the litigation process, integrating the discussion about the shortcomings of IVEs with a discussion of the rules of evidence and procedure. Topics here include the possible prejudicial effects of IVE exhibits, their admissibility under the Daubert/Kumho standards of technical and scientific admissibility, and the effectiveness of limiting instructions.
Meghan Dunn of the FJC research staff presented a paper at the June 2002 Conference of the Law and Society Association on the research she conducted as part of her doctoral work. She examined the persuasiveness of computer animation on juror decision making by comparing animation to diagrams in two mock trials. One trial involved a plane crash case, and one involved a car accident case. The persuasiveness of the animation on verdicts was dependent on the case; in the plane crash case, participants rendered verdicts in favor of the side presenting the animation. In the car accident case, however, the animation had no effect on verdicts. The role of familiarity with the depicted scenario is discussed as a possible explanation for the differing impact of animation. Additionally, jurors'
expectations about the persuasiveness of animations were discrepant with the animations' actual influence on jurors' verdicts.
The Law and Society paper is titled
Technology in the Courtroom: An Examination of the Effects of Computer Animation
(PDF, 12 pp.).