In Broward County, Florida, the jury could be one of the first in the country to experience a new dimension in expert testimony, if a former prosecutor has his way.
Ken Padowitz, defense attorney representing a Coconut Creek man who was accused of trying to kill his neighbor with a Dodge Viper, is using the latest technology to trick jurors in the driver’s seat. Wants to Keep – Virtual Reality Glasses That Promise Take a look at the alleged crime from the perspective of the defendant.
Padowitz filed a motion last week asking Broward Circuit Judge Ernest Cholera to allow the jury who was involved in the crash reconstruction to use virtual reality glasses to immerse himself in the testimony of an expert witness. Will decide the matter.
This hasn’t been done at Broward before. Padowitz is fairly certain that this has not been done anywhere in the United States. This would not be the first time that Padowitz was on the leading edge of introducing computer animation to the courtroom.
Back in 1992, Padowitz was a prosecutor in Broward County, seeking to put a defendant behind bars for murder in a hit-and-run case. He convinced a judge to allow him to view two-dimensional computer animation on a television screen, a decision that was later upheld by an appeals court and paved the way for the use of computer animation in countless criminal trials.
Now Padowitz is hoping to pave the way for 3D animation and virtual reality. His motion is to be heard on Friday. The Broward State Attorney’s office has not filed a response to the motion.
“An expert opinion is acceptable to present before a jury,” Padowitz said. “We’re just taking it a step further. They’re going to be able to look as if they’re right there, to be able to look around, to see what the defendant saw.”
Benjamin Siegel, 47, faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder in a first-degree. Padowitz hired an expert to testify that Siegel did not intentionally hit the victim with his car. The virtual reality presentation, designed by Pompano Beach graphics company Eyewitness Animation, will illustrate the expert’s findings.
“It is the testimony of the expert that is acceptable,” Padowitz said, “and the illustration is an extension of the testimony of the expert. There was no intention to commit murder.”
Eyewitness Animation president Jack Suchoki said virtual reality headsets would put the juror between the two front seats of the vehicle.
“The flexibility and ease of use are dramatic,” Suchoki said.
The juror’s field of vision would be 360°, meaning anyone could turn around and see an example of the back seat of a car, although that would be an inappropriate use of technology, he said.
“One of the benefits of this is that we can record exactly what each juror is seeing,” Suchoki said. He said this would ensure that each juror was focusing on the evidence, not the technique.
Eyewitness Animation was the same company that produced computer animation in the 1992 case that introduced the technology to the courts in South Florida. Suchoki said he foresees virtual reality headsets being used by juries in dozens of other cases, including car accidents and plane crashes.
Padowitz is creating a similar motion for using VR headsets in a shooting case. That motion has not been filed.
Putting jurors in goggles forces a tradeoff that affects both prosecutors and defense attorneys—if the technology works as promised, lawyers won’t be able to see their audience’s initial reactions. You cannot see the eyes of the jury member wearing the headset.
“The reality is you want to see the jury and you want to see their face during the trial,” Padowitz said. “We’re actually watching the video with them and using it to make our arguments, after the jury sees it.”