The Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg features articles, reviews and news of interest to lawyers and other legal professionals. This blog is published by Ted Brooks, a Trial Presentation and Legal Technology Consultant, Author and Speaker. Ted's trial experience includes the Los Angeles Dodgers divorce trial, People v. Robert Blake murder trial, and a hundreds of high profile, high value and complex civil matters.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Courtroom Projectors, Screens, and Monitors

Many courtrooms today are set up with nearly everything you’ll need to simply plug in to the system and present your evidence. Judges generally encourage and appreciate the use of technology, since it tends to speed up the trial process, and has the added benefit of making the evidence easier to follow and understand for the jury. Although it is sometimes assumed that jurors will think electronic trial presentation looks too flashy, or that your client has spent a lot of money, post-trial surveys prove that this is not the case.

A popular article I’ve written covers one simple item: Best Projectors for Courtroom Presentations. I discussed there that you would need a minimum of 3000 lumens in a well-lit courtroom, and that you should avoid anything with DLP technology, since it will turn your nice yellow document highlighting to a pea-soup green color. There is no point in using inferior equipment when the exhibits cannot be clearly viewed by the entire jury.

Another issue today would be whether to purchase a wide-screen or standard projector. Although it would appear that the wide-screen, or 16:9 format already dominates the television market, it’s not quite there when it comes to available screens. Most screens you’ll find are standard (or 4:3) format, meaning you’ll end up with a blank band on top of and below your exhibits. Fortunately, there are some models that will accommodate either. I would recommend considering one of those.

Also, you might want to consider a short-throw lens. Some projectors come with them, and some have optional extra lenses which may be used. The benefit here is that the projector may be placed only a few feet from the screen, making it less likely that you will continually be walking between the screen and projector. Although you probably won’t notice when part of the image is on your suit, others will, and it is very distracting.

Many courtrooms have a screen installed. Some are large enough, and some were apparently installed by the lowest bidder, regardless of size. Generally, you’ll want at least a 7 or 8 foot screen in a courtroom. One model I like is the InstaTheater, by DaLite. It stores in a tube, and does not require a tripod, so it fits well in a congested courtroom. It may also be placed on top of a table, if necessary.

Large Plasma or LCD Monitors
Another option you will find installed in some courtrooms is a large monitor, instead of a projector and screen. While they may be adequate for watching the news, sports, or movies at home, when you consider that they are only about half as large as a standard screen, you will likely find that they’re not really the ideal solution for trial presentation to a large audience. You can use more than one, but you also lose the effect of having one common focal point for all to view, and you can forget about using a laser pointer on it. Some cases require the color and clarity that only this type of monitor can provide.

Individual Monitors
You may want to install separate monitors for the Judge, witness, and each counsel table. This will allow everyone to view an exhibit right in front of them, which is necessary in some courtrooms, where not everyone will have a clear view of the screen. The added benefit is that this system may be used to preview evidence before it has been admitted into evidence, leaving the projector off. Once an exhibit has been admitted, the projector is then turned on for the jury.

Audio System
Don’t forget this critical detail if you have anything that you want others to hear. One example that is frequently overlooked is the videotaped deposition. Unless you have a decent speaker set connected, nobody will hear the audio from your laptop.

In order to control which party has access to the courtroom system, some sort of switching device must be installed. A matrix switch or switchable distribution amplifier may be used for this purpose. Some judges will also want their own “kill switch,” in order that they might disable the projector, if necessary, although this was more common several years ago, when the use of technology was new and untested.

Gaffer’s Tape
Don’t even dream about using anything but professional gaffer’s tape to secure all of your electrical, video, and audio cables. Gaffer’s tape is designed to not leave any residue, nor to pull the fabric from the court’s carpeting. Duct tape will certainly hold the cables in place, but you might find yourself replacing the carpeting if you try using it.

Equipment Rental or Purchase
Most Trial Presentation Consulting firms have all of this available, which means that you don’t have to ship the equipment, install the system in the courtroom, tape cables, and make sure that everything is in good working order. You can also purchase and handle of this yourself, if you’re so-inclined. No matter whether you rent or purchase, make sure you install and test it before trial. You and your client do not want the Judge to tell you that if you can’t make it work, you’ll not be able to use it.

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