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It was a fake case, but the two-way remote testimony and startlingly lifelike animation used to re-create a terrorist bombing were real. They gave jurists and lawyers plenty of legal and ethical questions to consider as such courtrooms of the future are installed nationwide. Courtroom 21 is ringed with flat plasma television screens and has smaller LCD monitors installed on every desktop. Several camera domes hang from the ceiling to record and project every move, and every document and piece of evidence can be digitally projected on monitors for the jurors and audience in the room or around the world. The groundbreaking portion of the trial occurred when a British barrister at the University of Leeds appeared on a television placed on the prosecutor’s desk. The television faced the witness box, where another television displayed a live image of the barrister’s star witness sitting in Canberra, Australia. A federal judge at the Virginia courtroom oversaw the questioning, and said he was impressed with the result, despite the few seconds’ delay as the voices and images — not always in perfect sync — crisscrossed the world. “It was a remarkable experience, and the people here have done a great service to the courts,” Judge James Rosenbaum said of the weekend demonstration that was put on to show how courtrooms of the future can work, and how the justice system will need to adapt to them. “We’re doing it to learn what happens when you use all the technology available at our disposal to determine the legal and ethical questions that occur when you have a high-stakes case,” said Fred Lederer, director of Courtroom 21 at the College of William & Mary’s law school. While futuristic, some of the technology already is growing in use. Lederer said 300 to 500 high-tech courtrooms are in use in the United States and Australia. Lederer’s courtroom was used as a model for the War Crimes Tribunal in the Netherlands, and his team is working with the Federal Judicial Center to develop a handbook about courtroom technology for judges and lawyers. The crucial evidence of the trial, an animation depicting a bombing and horrific collision of two aircraft over downtown London, held the courtroom rapt with its realism. Joe Reynolds, chairman of the Annapolis, Md.-based FTI Consulting, which created the animation, said his company has designed thousands of courtroom animations for all types of cases. “A three-dimensional moving object is so powerful for a jury to understand, and we find when it’s used properly — and it has to be admitted by the court — it can be a very useful part of the presentation,” Reynolds said. Later, Rosenbaum told the law students watching the trial that such animations can also be deceiving, since they can’t exactly mirror real life. “This event didn’t occur, wouldn’t occur and can’t occur,” Rosenbaum said, suggesting that each side may use the animations for their own ends. “And it brings up issues of truth and what we do as lawyers.” There were several computer presentations, including one that showed a 3-D model of a chemical compound that could be rotated and twisted with the touch of a finger. Rosenbaum, the judge, already has some high-tech experience. His courtroom in Minneapolis is wired to allow remote testimony by video. “I have found that they work very well, that juries are completely accepting of it, and that once they get used to it the lawyers like it a great deal,” Rosenbaum said. “I find it speeds up cases and makes them more comprehensible, which by and large is not a bad combination.” Rosenbaum said video teleconferencing is commonly used in appeals cases and is gaining acceptance in civil litigation. Due to the right of defendants to confront accusers, however, Rosenbaum and many other judges are reluctant to allow them in criminal situations. “It’s easy to call you a rat behind your back, it’s real easy to call you a rat from a thousand miles away,” Rosenbaum said. “But it’s a lot harder when we’re nose to nose.” “There’s a real jail where a real person is going, and you have to be careful,” he said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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