By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A recent blog post written by a juror in the trial of Jim Fayed, a gold trader convicted of arranging the brutal murder of his estranged wife in a Los Angeles parking garage, included some rather colorful descriptions of the prosecutor’s use of demonstrative graphics:
…And then there were the assistant DA’s unnecessarily omnipresent PowerPoint slides.
Here are some actual quotes:
“If Jim Fayed didn’t do it, who did? BATMAN?” Click: Batman slide.
“The defense is offering you a buffet of explanations.” Click: buffet slide.
Really?! The assistant DA’s favorite PowerPoint slide of all, though, was a red herring dropping down the screen on a string and then bouncing. He used this Monty Python-esque bit of goofery over and over and over again (mentally cue the sound effect: doy-oy-oyooiiinngg!) without regard for how sad or serious the current murder testimony was. When you find yourself more disturbed by the tactics of the prosecution than by bloody crime scene and autopsy photos of the victim, something’s really wrong.
Something’s wrong indeed, and the juror's reaction is understandable. Effective trial presentation is an art, and litigators should use every effective tool at their disposal to practice and hone that art. But when the techniques call attention to themselves is when "art" becomes "artiface." Some would point to this example and say, "See! This is what happens when litigators wed themselves to PowerPoint and other presentation crutches in opening and closing." But the problem in this case is not the use of visuals and PowerPoint, but the way they're used. As with anything that happens in a courtroom, graphics in trial need to be used by attorneys with some good sense and some taste. The "goofery" this juror, Jean Black, perceived got me thinking about the larger point: What are the conditions for the sane and responsible use of imagery in courtroom presentations? So drawing from this example, and also going a bit beyond it, here is my quick list of the top ten commandments for trial graphics.