Multimedia: An Unforgettable Trial Presentation
By Mark B. Wilson, P.C.
Jurors watch television, use computers, and play video games, all of which have eye-catching colors and fast moving information. Few jurors receive information simply by listening. Nevertheless, most trial attorneys continue to present their cases purely through one medium — their mouth. Properly presented multimedia trials are not only effective, they can make the difference between winning and losing. This is because multimedia helps jurors stay focused and remember what they viewed.
Years ago, the only multimedia tools available to attorneys were butcher block paper and an overhead projector. Now, attorneys are limited only by the software they can load on to a computer — and it does not take sophisticated software to make a powerful multimedia trial presentation. This article discusses the hardware you need (and the software you should consider using) to make a powerful multimedia trial presentation. Additionally, I will discuss the hardware Orange County Superior Court (“OCSC”) is making available. Lastly, I will give you my experience in making the hardware and software work together for an unforgettable presentation.
You must have a basic laptop computer to present a multimedia trial. The computer should be able to play compact discs (“CD”) and digital video discs (“DVD”). Once you have your trial presentation loaded onto your laptop, you should not need any additional equipment for your presentation in several Orange County courts. As discussed below, some courts already have everything you need for a multimedia trial presentation. If you are trying a case in a courtroom without any multimedia equipment, set forth below is a list of equipment you should consider renting or purchasing.
In order to show the jury what is on your computer, you must project the information onto a screen large enough for the jury to view the information. Years ago, the only option was to use a large television or monitor. Obviously, large televisions and monitors are heavy and cumbersome to move. While you could use a plasma screen, they are also heavy and expensive.
The best option is to use a good quality projector. Make sure to use a projector with sufficient bulb strength (lumens) to show images in a lit courtroom. Not many judges will permit attorneys to shut off all the lights in the courtroom. Moreover, you probably will want some lighting during your presentation so the jury can see you.
If the court does not have a screen, you will need to bring one with you. There are many adequate portable screens. Make sure to rent or purchase a screen large enough for your presentation, but not so big that it is difficult to set up or move.
In order to play sound ( e.g., a videotaped deposition), you will need a sound system. I recently purchased a set of speakers with built-in woofers, which provide adequate sound for a room the size of the average courtroom. The speakers plug directly into the computer, and there is no need for a receiver or frequency mixer.
Video Cassette Recorder (“VCR”)
VCRs are now ancient technology. However, if you have a video home system (VHS) tape you need to play, you must bring your own VCR to the courtroom. You must ensure your VCR is compatible with your projector and sound system. It is better to move to digital technology.
Bar Code Reader
I routinely bar code information before trial, so I can “call it up” instantaneously. You will need a bar code reader to access the bar coded information.
Visual Presenter/Document Camera
A visual presenter or document camera is a glorified overhead projector. This equipment is often referred to as an ELMO, the name of a visual presenter manufacturer. The ELMO permits you to display any document or thing, including three dimensional objects, that can fit onto the base of the equipment. There is a camcorder-like camera above the base, which digitizes the information, sends it through the projector, and onto the screen.
Visual presenters are effective tools to use while examining witnesses. Once a court has received a document, photograph, or object into evidence, attorneys can then place the exhibit on the presenter and question witnesses about it. Without a visual presenter, jurors have no idea what the exhibit is to which you are referring. With a visual presenter, jurors can view the exhibit with the witness and better understand the questions and answers. Moreover, the attorney can use a highlighter or pointer on the exhibit (which is being displayed on a screen) to emphasize certain information. Once again, this technique involves jurors in the witness’ testimony.
Complex Courts And Mobile Multimedia Courts
The OCSC Complex courtrooms (departments CX 101-105) have most or all of the following equipment installed: (1) projectors or liquid crystal display (“LCD”) screens (to display what is on your computer to the jury); (2) computer screens for attorneys and the court; (3) VCRs; (4) sound systems; (5) visual presenters; (6) trial illustrators, that permit you to electronically draw on an exhibit to highlight something important; (7) a printer to print any new exhibit created during trial (such as a document you annotated with the trial illustrator); and (8) dial-up Internet access.
Two additional courtrooms (departments C18 and C29) will soon receive “mobile multimedia systems,” containing equipment similar to the complex courtrooms. The mobile systems will not have VCRs but will have CD and DVD players.
Trial lawyers have to pay a fee to use the equipment in the Complex courtrooms. OCSC will provide the mobile units free of charge. Hopefully, the mobile systems will be well received by the courts, as well as attorneys, and OCSC will provide additional units for other civil courtrooms.
Your decision on what software to use depends on what you want to show the jury. Surprisingly, a little software can go a long way.
If you want to play videotaped deposition testimony, you should consider purchasing Sanction, which allows you to edit videotaped testimony and play clips with ease. If you have an animation or accident reconstruction you want to play, you will probably be able to incorporate that data into Sanction. Sanction also allows you to “call up” trial exhibits and digitally annotate them.
Most attorneys are familiar with PowerPoint, a Microsoft program, which permits you to organize and display outlines, pictures, and other graphics. If your case deals with accounting issues, you may consider using Excel, another Microsoft program. The list of potential software a trial lawyer may consider using is unlimited.
Putting It All Together
Multimedia trial presentations require preparation. You cannot show up at trial hoping to use multimedia if you have not prepared something for the jury to view. A trial using various forms of imagery can be very engaging. “Old fashion” blow-ups, charts, graphs, and timelines should not be ignored in this era of “high technology.” Sometimes, a single photograph can tell a powerful story. The key is to use a variety of tools, including high technology multimedia, to keep the jury focused and help your case be memorable.
Consider all aspects of your case to determine what technology will work best in your trial and practice using the equipment in your office before trial. There is nothing more embarrassing than telling the jury they are about to see something and having the equipment fail. Have backup systems available.
If possible, try to use multimedia from opening to closing argument. During opening statement, courts will often permit attorneys to use non-argumentative charts or other exhibits that undoubtedly will come into evidence ( e.g., the contract at issue or a photograph of the accident scene). Consider videotaping depositions and play key testimony during your case in chief. I like having bar coded testimony ready during cross-examination, in case a witness says something inconsistent with his or her deposition testimony. Videotaped testimony is very powerful, especially when you catch a witness lying or testifying inconsistently with his or her deposition testimony. Once the videotaped testimony is in evidence, you can usually replay it during closing argument.
Consider using a visual presenter in every stage of trial. I rarely refer to an exhibit unless I have it on the screen. This way, jurors never have to trust my summary of an exhibit, since they can see it for themselves.
Multimedia equipment is at its best during closing argument, since attorneys have more freedom to show the jury admitted exhibits, video, and argumentative charts and graphs created specifically for the closing argument. I like having one chart shown through the projector and another on an easel. Once again, changing media keeps the jurors’ attention. Finally, I like to show the verdict form on the visual presenter, walk jurors through the questions, and fill in the blanks during my closing argument. This way, jurors know exactly how I want them to answer the questions. While using multimedia does not guarantee success, it goes a long way in helping you achieve it.
This article first appeared in OCTLA Gavel, Fall 2006.