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The Past and Future of Virtual Reality And The Law

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Virtual reality in the courtroom is not a completely new concept. New developments in computer technology, dubbed “virtual reality” applications, put the computer user into the computing environment as a way to traverse and interact with information.  

The first VR-like experience was used in a case 27 years ago. The 1992 lawsuit, Stevenson v. Honda, was about the safety of a motorcycle, with riders suing Honda after an accident. Honda recreated the scene of the accident from the point of view of the rider, showing the rough terrain beneath the wheels and the speed at which he was traveling. The jury wound up siding with Honda. 1  

Similarly, VR is currently being used in criminal cases. New technologies like VR crime scene robots and computer imaging are offering new options for criminal lawyers, juries and law enforcement. FBI agent Terry Turchie said, “VR technology will soon become common in local, state, and federal courts, as it offers the chance to take jurors inside the crime to see what actually happened. Over 21 years ago, the UNABOM prosecution team became the very first example of presenting a paperless trial in a Federal courtroom. They gained approval to present their case against Theodore Kaczynski by using computers throughout the court with all the images, schematics, documents, and photos put squarely in front of the judge, juries and attorneys. This allowed them to “view” the evidence and reach a decision. Today, virtual technology is taking its rightful place to expedite criminal justice with accuracy, detail and presentation of facts—in the quest to ensure fairness and adherence to the rule of law.” 

These technologies can help present a case in a manner that helps juries better understand what really happened, be it a personal injury lawsuit or a criminal case. However, as with any evidence presented in court, the opposing side will have objections. The biggest problem with VR in a courtroom is how the video or scene is designed. It can easily present a one-sided narrative. The opposing attorney can claim that it gives the jury a biased perspective. This is one issue that will need to be addressed as the use of VR becomes more popular.  

Knowing how to appropriately apply VR in a case will become part of the process of handling cases. Regardless of how sophisticated technology becomes, it must comply with all the standard rules of evidence. Fortunately, evidence has come to accommodate technology over the years as the technology refines and transforms.  


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