Research in Virtual Reality Has Stepped into Crime Scenes
The impact of VR has been felt in all aspects of human endeavors. With the new revolution, the technology is now spilling into the criminal justice system.
Recently, researchers from Staffordshire University in England made it public that they’ve been awarded a $200,000 European Commission grant to develop ways of showcasing crime-scene evidence to jurors and lawyers through virtual reality.
Virtual Reality to Be Used in Analyzing Crime Scenes
The project was headed by Caroline Sturdy Colls, a Staffordshire professor of forensic archaeology and genocide investigation.
“A number of novel, digital non-invasive methods,” she said in a statement, have the “potential to . . . permit access to difficult and/or dangerous environments, create a more accurate record of buried or concealed evidence and provide more effective means of presenting evidence in court.”
Scroll down for the video
According to the researchers, who are also collaborating with Staffordshire, one of the techniques currently under tests uses VR motion-capture headsets developed by the gaming industry.
Head of justice services for Staffordshire Police told the BBC that virtual reality could “bring to life complex crime scenes.”
However, some people are still skeptical. “We don’t have a very good track record with bringing technology into court rooms,” said Jason Holt, a barrister at Steven Solicitors while responding to the BBC.
Virtual Reality in Courtrooms
In reality, the whole idea of using virtual reality in the courtroom isn’t exactly a new innovation. A 2001 Federal Judicial Center–funded guidebook authored by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy provided possible advantages and drawbacks of transporting jurors to virtual environments.
Virtual reality can be used to recreate scenes where it is important for the viewer to be aware of a part of the action. If compensation for fear, anxiety, peril, or the like are at issue, lawyers may wish that the jury to become aware of what the plaintiff or defendant felt. Virtual reality equipment provides the closest opportunity to that goal.
Unfortunately, it is so realistic that occasionally it induces motion sickness. However, a full recreation of the relevant scene (from the point of view of the people involved) is usually impossible; there remains a good deal of possibility for unfair prejudice.
At about ten years ago, William & Mary Law School’s Center for Legal and Court Technology researched ways of incorporating virtual reality into the courtroom. This was according to its director, law professor Fredric I. Lederer. The project, he told Law Blog, included a pre-trial in which expert witnesses in a criminal medical neglect cause uses virtual reality to scrutinize the scene of the operating room.
“It left us with the certainty you could do it,” Lederer said. The idea might not be a cutting edge now as it was then, according to the professor. However, he said some concerns linger, including about ensuring accurate representations of the real crime scene and making sure jurors, lawyers, and judges are “seeing” the same thing.
There’s also the nausea potential. “I wouldn’t want to lose a quarter of my jury because they’re trying not to throw up,” added Professor Lederer.
It is hoped that the project once completed will create the possibility of using virtual reality to transport jurors to crime scenes.