It’s 2020 and the new handheld Techsung Global Device 50 (“TGD50”) battery has a run time of six months between charges. Incredible technology except for one thing. Just like a few years ago, the batteries are catching fire during use.
My clients 50,000 square foot storage warehouse valued at $200 million burned to the ground after a cargo container filled full of TGD50’s caught fire and within an hour, destroyed the building and everything in it. Today, we’re starting a products liability jury trial in Orange County, California, and we’ll be using Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and body sensory devices (SD) to win the case for our clients.
The tech and legal issues are unbelievably complicated. The parties to this case are concerned that the average Orange County juror just isn’t going to be able to get a good grasp on the issues and damages. The anticipated expense of bringing in witnesses and experts from around the world is daunting. Our judge agrees.
Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Sensory Devices
Rather than a traditional jury trial, we’ll be utilizing the new Virtual and Augmented Reality with Sensory Device (VARS option) now offered by the Orange County Superior Court. This new service is designed to create a virtual courtroom. For those of you not familiar with VR or AR, here’s a glimpse of how this tech works [click to watch].
Instead of having to fight traffic and drive down to the courthouse, I’ll be conducting most of the jury trial from the convenience and familiarity of my office. The secure cloud-based VARS service allows me to use any devices such as an Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR or the HTC Vive to communicate and try my case. Opposing counsel, our judge, the court staff, and witnesses will all be using similar technology.
No physical courtroom is needed, and all other participants are engaging in the trial from their choice of location. For me, I’ll be starting my jury selection using my HTC Vive 1000 (fits on my sunglasses, covers my eyes, and offers a true enclosed 360 degree virtual view of the courtroom) while walking the beach at Strands in South Orange County, California. That’s where I do my best thinking and that’s where I’m going to start virtually connecting with my jury.
Picking a Jury
Our jury pool is global. Rather than consisting of the traditional cross-section of our local community, this VARS jury pool consists of programmers and tech experts from the Silicon Valley, The East London Tech Center in the UK and from Bangalore in India. One of the advantages of having everyone, including jurors, participating in the trial via their VR headsets is that it allows the qualified potential jurors to be selected from around the world.
The VARS service puts each potential juror, regardless where they physically reside, inside the jury box in our virtual Orange County courtroom. When they look left and right, they see their fellow potential jurors participating in the case. When they look straight ahead, they will see a digital courtroom, staff, judge, and counsel. They’ll also see the parties sitting at the counsel table. For all purposes, it appears to all the participants that they are seated in a traditional courtroom.
The attorneys take turns talking with the prospective jurors, and for all purposes, jury selection takes place just like it would in a traditional non-digital courtroom. During the process, jury consultants for both sides (one in Texas and the other in New York), are privately listening and watching what is going on and communicating with me using a “counsel only” box floating in the upper right-hand corner of the display. In real-time, these experts are suggesting what questions and issues should be discussed. I’m free to act upon or simply disregard their input. Everything is being recorded in real time to be reviewed later by each side.
In cases where the media has been given permission to broadcast the trial, a “media link” offered by VARS allows the media to look through the attorney’s eyes and share, in real-time, exactly what is happening in the courtroom. The media can also broadcast what goes on in the courtroom from almost every possible viewpoint and of course, subject to the court’s pre-trial orders. Private communications between a lawyer and his staff or consultant are not available for viewing via the “media link” connection. The result is full transparency for the community, and that’s always a good thing.
Once a jury is selected, the attorneys stand and give their opening statements. They can “walk” around the courtroom, use exhibits and show the jury video on a virtual digital screen. If an attorney places an objection as to the admissibility of evidence, he or she can swipe their hand in the air or click the “Objection” button, and the entire VARS trial stops allowing the judge to address the issue. Once done the judge swipes her hand to “go live” and the trial continues.
Everything the lawyers are normally able to do during the trial they can do with less time and effort using the VARS system. Jurors are more interested in participating in the VARS jury trial because they are not required to travel to and from the courthouse, and they are not required to wait around in the hallway until the judge and parties are ready for them (a big problem in the real world).
Furthermore, the jurors that are selected for the VARS trial program are experts and specialists from around the world who understand the issues, evidence, and arguments of the parties. The entire trial process is more efficient, and the chance for misunderstandings leading to an incorrect verdict is almost completely avoided.
Sensory Device (SD)
In addition to joining our trial via the VARS trial program, each juror will be given and wear the VARS sensory device which will allow counsel and the judge to “sense” what the jurors are feeling and thinking. The court allows this because of the work pioneered by the neuroscientist, David Eagleman, who has shown that as humans, we perceive less than a ten-trillionth of all light waves (information) available to us [click to watch].
As Eagleman points out, “our experience of reality is constrained by our biology” and when it comes to adjudicating cases properly, the more information in the right context the better. The new VARS sensory device will allow counsel to take in and understand previously unseen information about how each juror is interpreting the evidence and trial.
SD’s are provided by next day delivery or, via high speed 3D printing. Most of the smartphones and mobile devices already contain this technology, and so jurors simply connect a small device to their body which connects via Bluetooth 5.0 to the VARS trial service. The result is that the perception what the jurors think and feel is substantially higher and much more accurate.
Using the VARS trial program, lay and expert witnesses can be called from around the world. No longer are they required to miss work, incur expenses and travel to the courthouse to testify.
SD’s are used to give all parties a full understanding as to what the witness is truly communicating via their physical, emotional and other physiological readings. Each party is free to use and interpret what and how the witness feels and this helps put verbal responses to questions into proper context.
Another benefit of the new VARS trial program is that language translation is automatic and instant. During all phases of the trial including jury selection, opening statement, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and closing arguments, what language everyone speaks is no longer an issue. The VARS trial program allows everyone to communicate with 100% accuracy and clarity using the integrated Google Translate chatbot service. If any participate is not familiar with a term or phrase used during the trial, he or she can simply swipe in the air with their finger to have a definition confidentially displayed in their VARS headset or played in their ear.
The VARS system used by the lawyers, their support staff, and judge, allow for built in facial recognition software and social media and database links. This gives counsel and the court the ability to conduct real-time searches on jurors and witnesses. The results of Instant fact-checking can be confidentially communicated back to counsel via an earbud or private display for follow-up questioning. Real-time input from other lawyers in the office or consultants physically located on the other side of the country allows for a more meaningful discussion of facts and evidence to take place in a more thorough and meaningful fashion.
With VARS, and simply using a swipe of a finger or voice command, testimony from earlier in the day or week can be played back, during the break, to help jurors, counsel, and even the judge digest the information and prepare for later that afternoon or the following day. Back in 2016, we were required to ask the court reporter to work after hours, at a premium billing rate, to provide a copy of a witness transcript for use the next day. This new real-time service is less expensive, faster and more efficient.
No longer are the parties required to bring “evidence” to the courtroom. Documents, pictures, videos and site inspections can now be brought to the VARS trial with ease.
If the issues involve the manufacturing process of a particular component, jurors can now be virtually taken to a factory in Vietnam and South Korea and then immediately to a production line in South America to see exactly what takes place regarding the battery quality control and assembly process. A human being on site at each of these locations can share a live 3D video feed into the VARS trial to give everyone a front row seat on the entire manufacturing process. He can walk around, pick up and even demo almost anything that needs to be done per the instructions of counsel and the court.
When it comes to jury misconduct, jurors are instructed not to independently investigate or research the case. This has been a rule of court for decades and will continue to be the rule of court for many years to come. The new VARS service doesn’t change this rule, and traditional court orders will continue to apply. When jurors are sequestered, which is unusual in jury trials, the VARS device and service will be deactivated until the next day of trial. The same rules that apply to jury conduct back in 2016 continue to apply today in 2020 under the VARS program.
Judgment and Appeal
At the conclusion of the VARS trial, the jury can deliberate, while physically located all around the world, in a private and secure virtual jury deliberation room. The VARS system makes it seem as though the 12 jurors are in the same room sitting across a large table from each other. Testimony can be reviewed, and evidence can be held, examined and talked about. Once a final judgment is rendered, the case is concluded.
The VARS appeal process is automatic, and artificial intelligence (AI) will independently review the recorded trial digital audio, video, and sensory transcripts. Errors in procedure and evidence will be found, and options offered to the court and parties.
In some cases, the ability to opt out of the VARS program and have live appellate justices hear appellate issues and arguments is an option. If the parties choose to do so, they can simply continue the VARS approach to trial and handle oral argument at the appellate level using the modified Appellate VARS program.
It is noted that using the Appellate VARS program, many appeals that once took 1-2 years to conclude are now resolved within hours or days.
The new VARS trial program allows the lawyers, court staff and parties to resolve disputes in a more efficient and effective fashion. It also permits qualified jurors to participate, wherever they may be located in the world. Time is saved, and court costs are substantially reduced.
The availability of limited courtrooms is no longer an issue. What has become a very inefficient legal system is now an effective and welcome tool allowing everyone to have their day in court and to find justice. In this case VARS allowed my client to win the trial and recover all damages.
Note: Obviously everything I discussed is still in development but it’s going to happen in the near future. I do see this technology eventually complimenting not only our legal system, but also everything else we do as human beings. As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about disrupting industries and creating positive change so please feel free to reach out if you believe I can add value to your next interview or event. Thanks!
Mitch Jackson is an award winning California Trial Lawyer who in 2013 was named one of California’s Litigation Lawyers of the Year and in 2009, was recognized as one of Orange County’s Trial Lawyers of the Year. He enjoys sharing new ideas and approaches to disrupt and improve our legal system and to make justice more accessible and available to everyone.
Connect with Mitch on Twitter @MitchJackson and through his law firm JacksonandWilson.com. Many of Mitch’s live streams and tech posts are shared at Streaming.Lawyer. Click here to get on Mitch’s pre-release list for his new book, “Overnight Success” and also catch his popular weekly talk show TheShow.live