In 1995, when the jury in the trial of O.J. Simpson was led on a tour of his residence, the presiding judge made a point of throwing a sheet over the life-sized statue of the fallen star in his footballing glory that stood in the garage.
Within the story of one of the most famous cases in U.S. legal history, it’s a minor detail, but it helps highlight the difficulties encountered when a jury is taken out of the sealed environment of a courtroom and allowed to wander a public crime scene. It’s also one of the main reasons why the practice remains unusual.
The cost and logistics of doing it for a high-profile case mean it’s something a court would prefer not to indulge. In the Simpson case, in just that single day’s visit, thousands of dollars were spent on police chaperones, an entire section of LA was quarantined, and 14 vehicles were needed to get the jurors, lawyers, and court officials on the road, including a bus with steel bars and tinted windows. Had video conferencing been available back in that day most of the fuss could have been avoided.
Visiting the Scene of the Crime
While very, very few court cases are ever going to attract the public attention the Simpson case generated, all violent crimes are going to have a crime scene. It’s rare that a U.S. jury will make a visit to such a scene, but there are some advantages to the practice.
As was recently demonstrated in the UK during a court-sanctioned crime scene visit as part of the Jill Dando murder case, physically guiding a jury of non-legal minds through a crime scene can help generate a better understanding of the days of evidence about to mount before them.
If such trips were made using remote video calling technology you’d remove security risks posed to the jurors and judge and you’d save time and money transporting everyone.
Furthermore, actual scene of the crime visits would allow either counsel to provide situational context to a location by moving around nearby side-streets, demonstrating traffic flow, and explaining the ease or difficulty of an alleged perpetrator’s movements before a fatal incident. These practical considerations aren’t easily captured in models and diagrams that concentrate on the point of violence, or even the latest in computer-generated, immersive 3D models that can faithfully render entire rooms.
U.S. courts have been open to the use of video calling technology for more than a decade, and its use has saved millions of dollars, so it is quite possible it could be used to virtually transport an entire courtroom.
Huddle Room Tech for the Mobile Courthouse
Any system that is going to accomplish this disappearing jury trick will need to be mobile. A static video conferencing camera setup could comfortably pivot through 360 degrees to give the remote courtroom audience a view around a single room, or street, but if you need to move around a specific location, or move between locations, having to set up and pack down a system is only going to introduce delays.
On the other extreme, it is clearly not practical to have a court official simply wander about the place streaming video on their smartphone. The field of vision is too limited and the level of zoom and clarity necessary is simply not yet available.
Instead, you could turn to the emerging field of huddle room video-calling solutions, purpose-built for mobility and dealing with small groups of people. Devices such as Logitech’s Connect, or the soon to be released unit from Owl Labs, can be carried anywhere, are battery powered, and can be instantly deployed anywhere they’re needed.
So how would such a system work?
Telecommuting from Court
With the mobile cameras in place, the counsel for either side could manipulate the juror’s viewpoint by directly communicating with an on-site team. You’d have enough control that anything deemed inadmissible by the court could be hidden from view, while you’d still retain enough zoom and pan to accommodate the real-time questions, redirection, and instructions from the court.
The courtroom display could be divided between a general TV screen (cast from the VC platform) and individual laptops or enclosed VR headsets. Either counsel could also conduct a re-enactment of the crime remotely, with the live connection to the court giving the other side a chance to interrupt proceedings or stage an alternative series of events of their own.
If you wanted to get really futuristic about the whole process, you could let each juror drive around the crime scene in a VC powered robot, like the ones currently trying to find a place in the halls of the telecommuting office.
Of course, it’s possible the sight of 13 robots rolling around a police crime scene may generate just as much unwanted attention from the public as Mr. Simpson ever did.