Thursday, March 1, 2012

WIN Interactive Aids in the Conviction of Ex-Springfield Police Officer

Ex-Springfield police officer, Jeffrey Asher, was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 for a 2009 incident that resulted in Melvin Jones III being beaten by Asher with a non-department issued flashlight. A woman captured the altercation on video from her home across the street using a flip-cam. The Hampden County District Attorney's Office hired WIN Interactive to analyze the amateur video and enhance it where possible to present before a judge and jury.

Below is a before and after sample of some video enhancement:

Jurors were each given individual headsets to listen closely to the audio from the video as it was played over and over again by both attorneys. After almost two days of deliberating, jurors found Officer Jeffrey Asher guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Legality of Privacy Settings

Social networking has become an integral component of running a business these days. With websites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, companies can keep "followers" up to date with their news and advertisements and use this as a marketing tool to draw in more clients or consumers. With the ever growing popularity of Facebook and ongoing updates that CEO and president Mark Zuckerberg makes to his website, the importance of privacy for a user's information becomes more and more necessary.

Facebook has always concentrated on providing people with control over their social experience so they can express themselves freely while depending on that their personal information is being shared in the way they anticipated. However the road of privacy legally has not always gone the way they intended, with numerous accusations of dishonesty regarding their policy. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission), in an eight-count complaint, alleged that Facebook has not kept its promises.

One complaint issued by the FTC stated that Facebook claimed participating applications used a "Verified Apps" program which certified their security. Facebook then canceled Verified Apps in December of 2009 when word of this surfaced. After coming to a preliminary settlement with the FTC over what were classified as deceptive practices, Mark Zuckerberg has promised to recommit to and continuously update the Facebook privacy policy. This new policy ensures that Facebook will keep its promises about privacy to its 800+ million active users. Another precautionary measure Facebook is putting into affect is the implementation of a biennial independent audit of Facebook privacy policy practices to guarantee that its holding up to the FTC commitments.

“Today's announcement formalizes our commitment to providing you with control over your privacy and sharing -- and it also provides protection to ensure that your information is only shared in the way you intend,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post. “As the founder and CEO of Facebook, I look forward to working with the commission as we implement this agreement.” “In addition to these product changes, the FTC also recommended improvements to our internal processes,”. “We've embraced these ideas, too, by agreeing to improve and formalize the way we do privacy review as part of our ongoing product development process.”

Hopefully these new arrangements with additional privacy controls will make Facebook more appealing to those who may view the titan networking site as "creepy". This will also allow companies to be more comfortable with the content they share as well and not allowing private information to get into the wrong hands. Here at WIN Interactive we use these social networking accounts regularly, and it would be vastly counterproductive for business if we couldn't rely on these marketing tools as a means of growth and expansion in modern times.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conrad Murray Gets Michael Skakel'ed

In a relatively unsurprising turn of events, Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter (which carries a possible sentence of four years in prison) on Monday, November 7, 2011. His sentencing hearing is scheduled to be carried out on Tuesday, November 29, 2011.

Nonetheless, over the weeks as I read about the case via news coverage, I found certain developments at trial quite interesting from a legal point of view. While some might argue that the prosecution had an easy case considering that Dr. Murray caused the death of one of the most popular musicians to ever live, one need only reference the Casey Anthony trial to know how hard a prosecutor's job can be if the dots are not connected properly. (Of course, it didn't make the prosecution's job any harder when the defense's star expert witness was found in contempt of court and fined $250! (Check out this article for an amusing tale about the importance of prepping your witnesses before putting them on the stand).

As an attorney with an expertise in visual communication strategy, the most interesting fact I learned about the Dr. Murray trial was the technique employed by the prosecution during closing arguments. Apparently, the lead prosecutor "displayed a large picture of Jackson's gaunt, lifeless body on a hospital gurney and played the sound of his drugged, slurred voice, as recorded by Murray just weeks before the singer's death." The writer of the article accurately described this as "the most shocking moment… ."

There are three schools of thought on this kind of closing argument. There are those that would object vehemently against what the prosecutor did in the Conrad Murray trial. There are those that would applaud him for merely marshaling his evidence in a persuasive way, and finally, there are those that would weigh such use on a case by case basis. I happen to fall under that last category of person. There are times when using visuals is perfectly acceptable when making a pointed and strategic argument. Then there are times when the use of visuals can elicit potentially prejudicial confusion among jurors.

In the case of Conrad Murray, had I been the defense attorney, I would have objected to the prosecutor juxtaposing an image of Jackson's autopsy with his slurred words spoken when he was alive. The question I would have asked is, "What does Jackson's autopsy photo have to do with his slurred speech from a phone conversation weeks before his death?" The prosecution is mixing timeframes and preying on the sympathies of the jury to illicit an emotional response from them as they make their decision. Simply putting up a picture of Jackson with words he spoke could confuse a jury into thinking that these were Jackson's dying words and the fact that he was talking to Dr. Murray could not-so-subtly link him directly to Jackson's death by insinuating Murray's immediate presence at the exact time of death, which was a point in dispute at trial. Do lawyers all over the country employ a strategy of enraging jurors all the time? Yes, but they aren't supposed to do that unless there is some kind of good faith argument being made.

Nonetheless, with the proper narrative, I would guess that the argument here is that perhaps Dr. Murray should have understood that this kind of speech and behavior weeks before could ultimately lead to Jackson's death if he was not treated properly. In that case, the audio is used as a foreshadowing of Jackson's death that Dr. Murray should have seen coming. The visual becomes kind of a date-less timeline of the story of Jackson's death and rather than understanding them as simultaneous pieces of evidence, they are viewed as one leading to the other over time.

Even though this strategy received some publicity in Dr. Murray's trial, it is not a new one. In 2001, Brian Carney, Esq. (President of WIN Interactive), employed a similar strategy against another famous "Michael" in the State v. Skakel trial in Connecticut. In that trial Michael Skakel was convicted of the death of Martha Moxley that had occurred twenty-seven years prior. Working with State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, Mr. Carney put together a closing argument that placed images of the murdered Martha Moxley next to transcribed audio clips of Michael Skakel speaking about the days surrounding her murder. The argument that the prosecutor made in his narrative was that at certain times during Skakel's recounting of the events, he was referencing different moments of Moxley's life. At one point a nice image of Moxley appeared showing a pretty girl when Skakel mentioned her while she was still alive.

Then, when Skakel voiced alarm when asked about Moxley's whereabouts, the image of Moxley changed to that of her body at the murder scene. While, at first, this may seem like the prosecution is inserting meaning into something that may not have been intended, the prosecution was making an argument. The audio was already in evidence and therefore useable in closing. The photos were in evidence and also useable in closing. The prosecution then used them in a way to make the argument that Skakel knew what happened to Moxley and that he was thinking of her at different times during his statements. The argument was about Skakel's knowledge of guilt.

If you are reading the above and still feel uneasy about the legal ramifications of such tactics, you would not be alone. The Skakel case raised this issue in particular on appeal. The Supreme Court of Connecticut said, “By juxtaposing the photographs of the victim with the defendant’s statements, the state’s attorney sought to convey to the jury in graphic form what the State believed was the real reason for the defendant’s panic, that is, that he had killed the victim.” State v. Skakel, SC 16844 (2006). The court supported the use of visuals in this way because attorneys have the right to take evidence, arrange that evidence, and then argue in good faith from that evidence what he/she believes is the story of the case.

In another case cited in the Skakel appeal, the Supreme Court of Connecticut also explained an attorney's rights when making closing arguments when it said, "[C]ounsel is entitled to considerable leeway in deciding how best to highlight or to underscore the facts, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, for which there is adequate support in the record. We therefore never have categorically barred counsel’s use of such rhetorical devices, be they linguistic or in the form of visual aids, as long as there is no reasonable likelihood that the particular device employed will confuse the jury or otherwise prejudice the opposing party. Indeed, to our knowledge, no court has erected a per se bar to the use of visual aids by counsel during closing arguments. On the contrary, the use of such aids is a matter entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial court.’’ State v. Ancona, 270 Conn. 598 (2004).

Attorneys have a great amount of discretion during closing arguments, however, that does not mean one cannot object when they allegedly overstep those bounds. The key is knowledge about what is acceptable and what isn't. Many attorneys do not know what to do when faced with this kind of visual communication strategy. It is that lack of knowledge that can often turn the tables on even well-seasoned attorneys.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Every Breath You Take

I took a ride in the Massachusetts State police helicopter once while working on a case in the District Attorney's office. It was an amazing experience. Also, it was the first time I had ever witnessed the use of GPS technology which tracked every movement of where we were in relationship to the geography below us. As a former prosecutor, I am generally in favor of technology giving law enforcement as much of an advantage as possible when it comes to fighting crime. As a parent, however, my law enforcement leanings give way a bit to concerns about Big Brother and what information should be available electronically to the entire world.

Some things seem obvious. Technology can be very useful (and sometimes critical in), helping us to enjoy life, save time, and save money. For example, social media sites are excellent tools to connect with friends with whom one has lost touch (and possibly with whom one never would have been able to reconnect but for the internet). Yet, technology can be very invasive. For example, placing every detail of one's life (personal information, specific lists of "friends," favorite websites, buying patterns, likes and dislikes, etc.) into an electronic database, seems to be a bit foolish.

But Americans are peculiar. At times, we are willing to surrender our freedoms apparently without much of a thought about the privacy implications. And simultaneously, we are quite critical of the use of technology to prevent crime.

So where is the line between helpful technology and intrusion into one's privacy. Are we really headed toward a "Majority Report" world where smart technology not only knows where we are, but precisely how to manipulate our behavior based on a data set of our intimate (psychological) preferences.

Is there a general right of privacy in the things we do in the public square (or on the highway)? Can the police track a suspect or a person of interest by using a GPS tracking device attached to a person's vehicle? The Ohio Court of Appeals, in a recent opinion (State v. Sullivan), addressed this issue.

The Court held that there were constitutional concerns, specifically Fourth Amendment implications:
When a person parks his car on a public way, he does not thereby give up all expectations of privacy in his vehicle. There is no way to lock a door or place the car under a protective cloak as a signal to the police that one considers the car private. Checking vehicle identification numbers, taking paint scrapings or observing objects in plain view of the car are minimal and momentary intrusions which can be distinguished from the installation of the GPS tracking device. . . . We are unwilling to hold that every citizen runs the risk that the government will plant a GPS tracking device in his car in order to track his movements, merely because he drives his car in areas accessible to the public. A citizen has a right to expect that when she drives her car into the street the police or anyone else will not attach a GPS tracking device to her car in order to track her without first obtaining a warrant authorizing the placement of the tracking device.

While I admit, I think it disturbing to allow the government to track one's movements without restriction. At the same time, I am concerned with hindering legitimate law enforcement investigative tools which will make us less safe as a society. As technology improves at the exponential rate which it does, the ability to harmonize these two interests is going to become more and more difficult.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Accident Reconstruction Software

As a 3D animator for a litigation and consulting firm, my perspective on presentations of legal evidence has changed greatly. When considering the amount of detail that undoubtedly has to go into each and every area of a case in order to create an admissible presentation, I find it quite perplexing when I hear about methods of creating these accident/scene recreations by cutting corners.

One example found here: shows how a pre-scripted computer program collects data entered by a user and can recreate an accident that has already happened. My interpretation is that these types of software programs leave out a lot of details. This immediately sets off giant flashing red lights in my head in terms of the accuracy of an incident because of the possibilities of there being other factors that the program may not be accounting for. Especially when they are using 3D cars in 2D space, it can lack necessary environmental detail.

For instance, what about visual obstructions such as signs or other objects on the sides of roads or when coming around a turn? How about weather changes such as rain, wind, or glare that cause the driver to not be able to see as easily or react as quickly.

My inclination is that this software cannot completely take over for a human animator when there are just way too many other things to consider. In order for there to be a fair and accurate representation of a reconstruction, all the relevant information needs to be included. There are just some aspects to a case that cannot possibly be figured out without actually drawing the scenarios out by hand (or computer). In my opinion, an animator will always be necessary to ensure complete accuracy.

Check out an example of what appears to be a combination accident reconstruction software program that incorporates human modeling and design.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gamers vs. Scientists

Finally! Validation that all my years spent as a youth inside playing video games rather than taking in the fresh air and sunshine was actually a good decision. Apparently, gamers have done what scientists could not. They deciphered the structure of an AIDS-like virus by "playing" with the virus in 3-D space using a program called "Foldit" created by the University of Washington.

The Foldit software was created as a game for the purpose of having gamers compete against one another to finish puzzles. The puzzles in this case were chains o
f amino acids that needed - you guessed it - unfolding. When not "unfolded," amino acids and viruses look like blobs of spaghetti in a 2-D space. It's hard to see what's really going on and for scientists to develop cures, they need to know the structure of the virus.

According to Seth Cooper, one of Foldit's creators, the decision to let gamers take a crack at the virus was based on the idea that humans have intuitive spatial relationship skills that computers don't yet have. The result was a perfect balance of computer generated images that made seeing a microscopic object possible to the naked eye and human ingenuity that thought around the process.

This is just one example of how 3D space combined with human perception can yield incredible results. The same goes for the courtroom. Science and math are wonderful, but not everyone understands it. That's why there are years of schooling and often massive student debt required to get a piece of paper that says a person understands those subjects. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean lay people should abandon hope of understanding tough scientific concepts and ideas. The gamers that figured out the AIDS-like virus structure were not scientists, but yet by observing the virus visually in 3D space, they came up with a well-reasoned conclusion.

The same could be said for judges and juries. When faced with complex verbal explanations of complex ideas, jurors may often feel lost. They must then make decisions together based on separate, perhaps inaccurate, understandings of a subject. However, if those same jurors hear a step-by-step explanation accompanied by a 3D animation or a 2D visual, they will take away more from the information than they would left on their own. The added benefit is that all of the jurors see the same visual, so they can then discuss the issues from the same starting point. Without the groundwork or base of a visual, each juror must then come up with their own idea of how to visualize the subject matter in their minds resulting in different pictures. A lawyer's goal should be to get all of the decision-makers in a room on the same page by visualizing an argument or an explanation. When someone can see what you see, you're already closer to your goal of understanding. Just as gamers saw a problem visually in 3D and then figured out how to solve it even without fully understanding the science, so can jurors and judges understand complex ideas when presented with accompanying visuals.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Projection In The Courtroom

A new evolution for home theater has recently come about in the last few years since an increasing amount of 3D movies and are now available. Welcome, the 3D projector. 3D Projectors originally hit the market in 2008 mainly for educational purposes with a maximum high resolution of 720p. Then, in 2010 that changed with the first release of a 1080p model by LG. This meant that it could process signals from 3D-ready Blu-rays, Playstation 3, and could also handle multiple 3D formats. Some projectors can now even convert 2D content to 3D.

Unfortunately, these 3D projectors still require 3D glasses that must be worn in order to see a three-dimensional image. Remember the old red and blue style glasses? Well, those were the most basic way to achieve seeing this 3D effect, but also the poorest way for viewing 3D material. More modern glasses for the latest 3D technology use a different method through polarizing lenses (passive glasses) that filter the projector's light to each eye. The result is a very convincing 3D effect.

3D projectors achieve this effect by using active shutter glasses. This is a standard that will stay true for all future DLP 3D projectors. With these, the screen rapidly alternates between scenes intended for each eye while the glasses open and close the corresponding lenses. The only downside to this is that it causes a dimming effect on the image quality and the colors aren't as rich as they would be with watching content in standard 2D high definition.

As valuable as it is to use 3D projectors for educational purposes in classrooms, it would be just as valuable for educating a judge and jury in a courtroom (admissibility issues aside). Imagine a scenario where a crime or car accident happens. Immersing the viewers into the scene so that they have a much better sense of what is going on and what it almost feels like to be there would spark different thoughts than by just watching a standard 2D presentation. How would things change if 3D projectors that did not require glasses were available? Would that remove the feeling of viewing something through a frame? Perhaps it would enable the judge and jury to feel as if the incident is happening right in front of them?