Virtual Reality: Coming to a Courtroom Near You!

Virtual reality is becoming more prevalent when it comes to playing video games or watching a movie at home, but it could also start playing a role in the courtroom in the not-so-distant future. Recently, researchers from Staffordshire University in England were announced as the recipients of a $200,000 European Commission grant to create ways of presenting crime-scene evidence to jurors and lawyers through virtual reality. 

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“A number of novel, digital non-invasive methods, have the potential to...permit access to difficult and/or dangerous environments, create a more accurate record of buried or concealed evidence and provide more effective means of presenting evidence in court,” Caroline Sturdy Colls, the leader of the project, said in a statement. 

Staffordshire University told The Wall Street Journal that one technique being coordinated and tested with the Staffordshire police department, uses virtual reality motion-capture headsets, which have become popular in the video gaming world. The Head of Justice services for Staffordshire Police told the BBC that these new developments could “bring to life” complicated crime scenes. 

Not everyone is thrilled about the idea of bringing virtual reality into the legal world however. Jason Holt, a barrister at Steven Solicitors told the BBC that “we don’t have a very good track record with bringing technology into courtrooms." The debate on the merits of reenacting crime scenes has been played out before. In 2001, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy released the Federal Judicial Center-funded guidebook that outlined the potential advantages and drawbacks of transporting jurors to “virtual environments”: 

“This kind of equipment is used for recreating scenes where it is important for the viewer to feel a part of the action. If compensation for fear, anxiety, peril, or the like are at issue, lawyers may want the jury to feel what the plaintiff or defendant felt. Virtual reality equipment comes the closest to that goal.  Because a full recreation of the relevant scene (from the point of view of the people involved) is usually impossible there remains a good deal of possibility for unfair prejudice.” 
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A decade ago, William & Mary Law School’s Center for Legal and Court Technology researched ways to integrate virtual reality into law practices, according to Law Professor Fredric I. Lederer. The project involved a mock trial where expert witnesses in a medical negligence case used virtual reality to visualize the scene in the operating room. “It left us with the certainty that you could do it," Lederer said. Although the door was left open for future use, there were some lingering concerns including the accurate recreation of crime scenes and making sure jurors, lawyers, and judges were all viewing the same thing. Oddly enough, nausea was also a noted concern. “I wouldn’t want to lose a quarter of my jury because they’re trying not to throw up,” Lederer added. 

While virtual reality hasn't reached the courtroom quite yet, other industries are putting it to full use. Last summer, the University of Michigan's Athletic Department became the first collegiate athletic department to utilize virtual reality for recruiting and fan engagement. Players and fans will be able to wear HeadcaseVR's as glasses and see first hand what it's like to practice during the week, get ready in the locker room, and run out of the tunnel in front of the largest crowd in the United States.

While virtual reality has yet to play a role in the courtroom, the attorneys at The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC will work with you to create an accurate description of what took place in your case. Our attorneys are committed to doing thorough research and investigation in order to get you the help you need. If you or somebody you know has been in an accident, call us today at 844.4MI.FIRM, for a free consultation.