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Feature

Professor Simon with a screen projection of a gun.

Professor Steve Simon demonstrating some new courtroom technology.

Hi-tech justice

New technology in Courtroom 180 gives Law School students a taste of the future

By Meleah Maynard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. "Sometimes it's worth 10,000," says Professor Steve Simon as he lays a gun on the image camera's display area and zooms in. Across the room a wide screen displays a large close-up of the gun. And there they are, visible to everyone in the courtroom...the owner's initials carved in the metal just above the handle.

"You can't hand a gun to jurors to examine," explains Simon. "You have to tell them what you want them to know or you have to show them. Visuals are much more accurate and powerful."

The image camera, also known as ELMO, is just one of the many hi-tech pieces of equipment being used in today's courtrooms. The increasing presence of technology, says Simon, is primarily a result of studies that demonstrate how people take in and process information. "Learning psychologists tell us that when people see things they process them differently than if they had only heard them. Visuals are often better internalized and understood."

Law schools across the country are outfitting their courtrooms with state-of-the-art equipment, so students can familiarize themselves with the technology before using it on the job. Simon is heading up the Law School's courtroom technology project, assisted by Gene Danilenko, the Law School's Education Technology specialist.

In the past six months, the two men have turned Courtroom 180 into a courtroom of the future by creating an ad hoc system of equipment that mimics what more elaborate set-ups do while costing a fraction of the price. Their prototype, with a price tag of just under $10,000, is the first step toward a permanent system, which Simon estimates could cost around $250,000.

"Very serious issues are discussed at the bench and people have a constitutional right to hear what's being discussed," says Law School Professor Steve Simon. "This wireless system makes that possible."

At the center of the Law School's system is the image camera, which looks like a sleek, futuristic version of an overhead projector. The camera sits on a media cart between the counsel tables. With the touch of a button, attorneys can display paper documents as well as physical evidence like a gun or key, projecting the image onto a pull-down screen. By connecting their laptops to the system, attorneys can also project documents and images on their computers, as well as PowerPoint evidence, onto the screen. They can also make use of a nearby VCR.

The judge and witness have small television sets, allowing them to view evidence before it is presented to the entire courtroom. "The video signal is transmitted to them in a way that's very similar to wireless network," explains Danilenko. A wireless sound system allows defendants to put on headphones back at the counsel table and overhear whispered bench conferences, while a small portable stereo in the jury box acts as a makeshift white noise machine to keep them from overhearing what's being said. "Very serious issues are discussed at the bench and people have a constitutional right to hear what's being discussed," says Simon. "This wireless system makes that possible." Jury rooms are equipped with wireless video cameras and microphones, so students can review jury deliberations to see where they did well or needed work.

"This system will help us get the kinks out and show people what we can do," says Simon. "Courts are moving in this direction and it makes sense for our students to learn how to use this technology. Those who can do this will definitely have an advantage when they start work in the real world."

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