Monday, May 22, 2017

Limits on the Prosecutor's Use of PowerPoint Presentations In Summations


Jill Paperno,
Author of "Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense"

April's Court of Appeals decisions included two cases addressing the use by prosecutors of PowerPoint presentations in their summations.  PowerPoint is being used more and more frequently, and it is important to consider what the Court has deemed permissible, and what you should do (object, ask for limiting instruction at the time and an additional instruction during the final instructions?) during the trial if the Court does permit it.  

In People v. Anderson, the Court noted:

At bottom, a visual demonstration during summation is evaluated in the same manner as an oral statement. If an attorney can point to an exhibit in the courtroom and verbally make an argument, that exhibit and argument may also be displayed to the jury, so long as there is a clear delineation between argument and evidence, either on the face of the visual demonstration, in counsel's argument, or in the court's admonitions. We reject defendant's position that trial exhibits in a PowerPoint presentation may only be displayed to the jury in unaltered, pristine form, and that any written comment or argument superimposed on the slides is improper. Rather, PowerPoint slides may properly be used in summation where, as here, the added captions or markings are consistent with the trial evidence and the fair inferences to be drawn from that evidence. When the superimposed text is clearly not part of the trial exhibits, and thus could not confuse the jury about what is an exhibit and what is argument or commentary, the added text is not objectionable. The slides, in contrast to the exhibits, are not evidence. The court properly instructed the jury that what the lawyers say during summations is not evidence, and that in finding the facts, the jury must consider only the evidence. In this case, as was appropriate, the jury was told that the physical exhibits admitted into evidence would be made available to them, while the slides were not supplied to the jury during deliberations.

So you want to consider, if objecting, whether there is a "clear delineation between argument and evidence", whether the added captions or markings are consistent with trial evidence and the fair inferences to be drawn from the evidence", and whether the superimposed text is obviously not made to look like part of the exhibit (thus not misleading).  

Make sure the PowerPoint is preserved in the record for appeal - ask that the disk be marked and preserved.  And consider using them yourselves.  In this case, the Court did not find it reversible error that there were text boxes around the defendant's face in one slide, with comments added.  The Court stated, "In our view, the added text accurately tracked the witnesses's testimony and the fair inferences to be drawn from the evidence, and the placement of the text boxes around defendant's face was "not simply an appeal to the jury's emotions" (Santiago, 22 NY3d at 751)...Nonetheless, even accepting defendant's position that this slide was objectionable, the display of this slide alone did not deprive defendant of a fair trial. Instead, as in Santiago, "the objection to the PowerPoint presentation that defendant now raises is not so 'clear-cut' or 'dispositive' an argument that its omission amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel" (22 NY3d at 751)."

Justice Rivera recognized the powerful impact of visual aids, as borne out by research in her dissent in Anderson:

Every person who relies on visual aids to communicate a message is likely cognizant of what the science bears out: the medium of delivery has the potential to powerfully influence the way the message is heard and retained (see Lucille A. Jewell, Through a Glass Darkly: Using Brain Science and Visual Rhetoric to Gain a Professional Perspective on Visual Advocacy, 19 S Cal Interdisc LJ 237, 293 [2010]). Research shows that pictures are typically remembered better than words (see Mary Susan Weldon & Henry L. Roediger, III, Altering Retrieval Demands Reverses the Picture Superiority Effect, 15 Memory & Cognition 269, 269 [1987]). Indeed, "with visual information, people believe what they see and will not step back and critically examine the conclusions they reach, unless they are explicitly motivated to do so. Thus, the alacrity by which we process and make decisions based on visual information conflicts with a bedrock principle of our legal system — that reasoned deliberation is necessary for a fair justice system" (Jewell, supra, at 293). This can make the use of images at trial particularly problematic when combined with language, as "annotating images with text . . . exacerbates the interpretive distortion of images" (Elizabeth G. Porter, Taking Images Seriously, 114 Colum L Rev 1687, 1755 [2014]). Particularly troubling in the legal context are recent studies showing "that photos that relate to, but do not provide any evidence for, a claim . . . can nudge people towards believing that the related claims are true, whether they are true or not" (Eryn Newman & Neal Feigenson, The Truthiness of Visual Evidence, 24 The Jury Expert, 5:1 [Nov 2013]; see also Eryn Newman et al., Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness, 19 Psychonomic Bulletin & R 969, 973 [2012] [studies have suggested that "the mere presence of non-probative information such as photos might rapidly inflate the perceived truth of many types of true and false claims" and that this effect can last for up to two days])[FN3]. Furthermore, "images are much more immediately and tightly linked with emotion than is text," so "while images offer a wealth of creative and effective communication tools for lawyers, the very elements that make [*7]them persuasive pose dangers to the integrity of the decisionmaking process" (Porter, supra, at 1755-1756).[FN4]
I have previously addressed how visual imagery can be particularly impactful in summation,

"when 'any argument that drones on for 5 or 10 minutes on any one point, regardless of how effective its content is, will lose the jury' (Thomas A. Mauet, Trial Techniques 394 [8th ed 2010]). Visual aids are a welcome relief since '[b]y the end of the trial, jurors are looking for new and fresh ways of receiving evidence and arguments' (id.). The use of technology at the end of closing argument may be particularly powerful. As one commentator has noted, '[t]he right to the final word has a psychological impact that makes it a forensic prize' (Siegel, New York Practice § 397 at 692 [5th ed 2011])."

(People v Santiago, 22 NY3d 740, 754 [2014] [Rivera, J., dissenting]). The last side to comment and deploy a visual presentation of its view of the case therefore gains an edge in persuading the jury as it commences deliberations. In the end, if visual tools did not enhance the rhetorical impact of the spoken word or persuade the viewer of the logic of an advocate's reasoning, the prosecutor would not take the time to mark up photos of exhibits, embed those photos with text and images suggesting defendant's guilt, and present those images in a PowerPoint slide show, as was done here.

Knowing that such a powerful and potentially persuasive tool exists, shouldn't we all start considering not just objecting, but adding PowerPoint to our toolboxes? 

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