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CourtDV: Opportunities in Legal Video
Posted Jun 1, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Videography to a trial attorney is like a copy machine to a busy office: It’s getting to the point where attorneys cannot survive without it. With cases continuing to be backed up an average of six to 12 months across the nation, the courts are looking for every technique possible to accelerate the litigating process. Depositions have been used for years during the “discovery phase” of a case to secure information that will speed the process. Now, with the advent of digital video in depositions, the editing from the original testimony can save the parties many hours of irrelevant testimony that would otherwise have been presented during a trial. More importantly, the video documentaries that are now produced on a regular basis to be presented in court are being effectively used during pre-trial attempts to settle most cases out of court.

Because video-evidence content is controlled by the federal, state, and district courts, it is important to know just what will or will not be deemed admissible in a court of law. As you may already know, this will also be controlled by the judge in any specific court. The American Guild of Court Videographers (AGCV), the nation’s only organization of professional videographers that are trained in all aspects of legal videography, specializes in training and certifying professional videographers in knowing and using the appropriate rules and equipment in producing video evidence for the courts. Those trained and certified by the AGCV have become expert consultants to the legal profession in producing visual evidence for the courts that is effective, complete, and convincing, and gets the desired results.

The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is more truth than poetry. Properly prepared video evidence will keep today’s videocentric Generation X and Y jurors alert and allow them to retain far more information than spoken words alone.

We are hearing more and more about new and creative methods on how videography is being used effectively in the litigating process. With 95% of all lawsuits never making it to court, the “Settlement Documentary” (previously referred to by attorneys as a “Settlement Brochure” and more recently called the “Mediation Video”) has become the most effective method of conveying the plaintiff’s story to the opposing party, as it can contain visual information that would otherwise not be permitted to be shown in court. Because there are no rules regarding the content of the settlement documentary, it can be very convincing in bringing about a successful settlement during pre-trial negotiations above and beyond any other method now being used.

A much-used style of video documentary called “Day-In-The-Life” video—which most recently is being called “Activities of Daily Living” (ADL) video—has proven to be far more effective as a trial tool than actually having the victim testifying live on the witness stand during the body of a trial. Many examples exist to prove that fact. An ADL video documentary, along with the video recording of an expert witness prior to trial (which is now being required in some states) can convey powerful evidence that can move the court to reach the desired verdict for the plaintiff.

The most important use of video is not limited to real-life situations. With the advent of extremely effective high-tech computer-generated graphics produced on video, the trial attorney can now present a true-to-life re-enactment of an incident that otherwise would not have been available during trial. These re-enactments have become so real, in fact, that some judges are having second thoughts about allowing them to even be shown in court. They contend that a viewer may believe that the re-enactment is exactly what happened rather than a depiction of what someone thinks actually happened. Again, these state-of-the-art methods are used very effectively during pre-trial hearings and many times will lead to early settlements.

Another type of legal videography that is becoming far more popular is the recording of the will-execution ceremony. A video recording showing the testator giving a clear and lucid reading of the will can dispel issues regarding soundness of mind when the last will and testament was executed, and often prevent the will from being contested on those grounds. A properly trained legal videographer can assist in the correct method of recording the event so as to remove any doubts as to the validity of the document. Similar opportunities abound with the video recording of the pre-nuptial execution where the parties concur on camera as to the exact meaning of each and every phrase in the document, and attest that it was signed without any intimidation on the part of either party.

Properly prepared and presented video evidence can also bring the scene of the incident into the courtroom and have it projected to TV monitors or to a big screen for all to see. This eliminates the need to transport a jury out to the scene of the incident or crime. Attorneys in the past have passed pictures through the jury, which is worse than presenting no picture at all. Every juror is distracted from what is being presented in the trial during the time they are passing the pictures around. This is probably the number one reason for hung juries in the courts today.

Gayle Marquette, Ph.D., CSCV, CLVI is founder/administratot of the American Guild of Court Videographers, LLC, based in Casper, Wyoming..

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