Does Court-Provided Audiovisual Equipment Help or Hinder?

Courtrooms new and old across the United States are being outfitted with some of the latest audiovisual equipment.  Lots of time and money have been spent planning the best equipment to install, where to install it and how the judge will control it.

With that said, the setup is often designed around the judge’s view – not the jurors’ – and there’s not necessarily a lot of thought put into what will be displayed on the screens.  Trying to present trial graphics, for example, can be less than ideal with these new setups.

So let’s take a look at a few modern courtroom setups we have encountered.  Then, we will offer a few suggestions for what to do in situations where the established setup could be a detriment to your presentation.

Examples of Modern AV Setups in Courtrooms

Courtroom #1

Figures 1-3 below are a great example of a courtroom that was recently outfitted with brand-new plasma TVs.  On the plus side, jurors are privy to a bright TV signal, and two of the three monitors are close to the jury box, so jurors have a choice of which screen is more convenient.  At the same time, however, multiple-monitor setups simply offer jurors too many sources of focus (and distraction).  You will likely struggle to direct their eyes where you want them (and they may get tired of ping-ponging their heads back and forth, up and down).

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Figure 1: From the jury box looking left

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Figure 2: From the jury box looking forward

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Figure 3: From the jury box looking right

Courtroom #2

In this east coast courtroom, the court provides both plaintiff and defense counsel a VGA connection at counsel table.  The signal is fed to a 50” plasma TV on wheels that sits 15’ to 18’ away from the jury box.  We were not allowed to augment the screen in any way.  As you can see in Figure 4, while this setup is passable for the playback of a non-live witness, viewing a scrolling transcript or trial graphics can be a challenge, especially for jurors in the second row who are 18’ away.

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Figure 4: Looking from the jury box 15’-18’ to the court-provided monitor

Courtroom #3

Figure 5 below shows a typical non-wired courthouse.  Traditionally, these courthouses are larger and lack any form of existing audiovisual setup.  If this courtroom hadn’t had a projector and screen, we would have been allowed to bring in a set as large as 20’.  As it was, it had been retrofitted a few years back with a powerful 4k lumens (brightness) projector and a 10’ screen.  Generally speaking, a jury would have no problem seeing document callouts from 20-25’ away.

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Figure 5: From the right side of the jury box looking forward

Courtroom #4

In this final example the court-provided monitor is sitting on top of a cabinet, 20-24’ away from the jury box.  Hardly a great setup if you have anything beyond video testimony.  Thankfully, the judge in this case allowed our side to add an 8’ insta-theater in front of the existing TV.  An insta-theater screen is an excellent solution because they don’t require frames that take up extra space.  In the end, the increase in screen size really made the difference, since we needed jurors to clearly see a number of pictures that were at issue in this premise liability trial.

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Figure 6: Before

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Figure 7: After – with 8’ screen added

How to Make the Courtroom AV Work for You

As you can see, many courtrooms have imperfect audiovisual setups.  Here are a few things you can do to make the best of it:

  1. Investigate the setup in advance, so you can make adjustments if they’re needed.
  2. Be prepared for all of the new possible cable connections. Gone are the days of simple VGA; we now have HDMI in two different varieties, iPads, etc.  The trend in today’s courtrooms is to have VGA and HDMI connections, but bring a wide variety of backup cables and adapters.  It can also be wise to bring a separate audio speaker so you can control the audio to your liking.
  3. Test your connections daily. Test any connections you can, and ask the judge to kindly test the connection he or she controls before court starts in the morning, as well as after lunch.  You don’t want a disruptive AV issue in the middle of your case.
  4. Sit in the jury box to test out monitor angles and dimensions. Be sure to sit in every juror seat possible.  The best line of sight from the jury box is one that has the witness, the attorney and the display all in a horizontal line.  If the jury’s line of sight is vertical, where they constantly have to look up or down to a monitor, it will divide their attention, making it harder for you to control their focus.
    • Also check that nothing – doors, columns, whatever – obstructs any juror’s view.
  5. Be prepared for small screen dimensions. Many courtrooms are being installed with plasma/LED TVs.  As we’ve discussed, these monitors are fine for simple playback of video testimony.  But if a 50” monitor is placed more than 20’ away, the average juror will have a difficult time reading 20-point font.  Assuming you’ve heeded #1, you’ll have a chance to go into your presentation and increase font sizes accordingly.
    • As a general rule, use large text when possible and make sure document callouts are clear and legible.
    • If the monitors in your courtroom are close and placed lower to the ground to the jury box, position your callouts higher so your jurors can clearly read the language.
    • Make sure you know which screen dimensions the courtroom uses! This can be easy to overlook but if you have built your graphics in the 16×9 format and the court provided monitors only project in 4×3 your graphics will look squeezed and the fonts and images will not be in the scale that you intended them to be.
  6. Prime the judge. Ask the judge to turn on your monitors before you need them.  Because the new audio and visual controllers have so many different functions, judges are sometimes unable to solve technical problems with the displays, despite their training.
  7. Augment and/or move the existing equipment. If you are allowed to do so, this can be your best solution.  An understanding judge will usually acquiesce to your requests.  Again, if you follow #1, you should have time to sort any adjustments out without the risk of making the court wait.  Remember that one large screen, rather than multiple monitors, is ideal.

Conclusion

While courtrooms have moved into the 21st century by upgrading its projection equipment, it can sometimes hinder your presentation to the jurors.  It is a delicate balance to want to meet your goal of improving the jurors’ view of the electronic exhibits and not also offend the court by suggesting that their set up isn’t ideal.  Finding ways to adjust graphics or working within the existing courtroom set up will be critical to ensuring the jurors can see your graphics.  Let us help you scout out your courtroom and offer viable alternatives to ensure the best presentation of graphics to your jurors.

By: Adam Bloomberg, Managing Director – Visual Communications