Aggressively Defending My Clients Since 1990


On Behalf of | Aug 13, 2016 | Firm News

Spinoza once said:

After experience had taught me that all things which frequently take place in ordinary life are vain and futile, and when I saw that all the things I feared, and which feared me, had nothing good or bad in them save in so far as the mind was affected by them; I determined at last to inquire whether there was anything which might be truly good.

Many people no longer make inquires of ordinary life about what is vain or futile; good or bad.  They are in too much of a hurry to examine their life. Everything in our modern lives is done in an instant from our “fast foods” to our “instant messaging.”  The problem is that, as time marches on, life may become more routine, more mundane. Hence, you create fewer memory bumps of emotionally-charged events — your first kiss, going to college, getting married, having your children – so that what might be called “regular events,” just pass by in a blur (technically, this is called reminiscence bump).  Can 46 years have passed since The Beatles broke up?

So what happens if our speed of life is suddenly slowed down right in front our eyes?  Moreover, what happens in an emotionally charged situation like a criminal jury trial?

Just ask the lawyers for John Lewis.  Mr. Lewis was on trial for murder of a police officer.  The key issue was whether he acted intentionally or under a state of panic.  As jurors are often asked to do in today’s courtrooms, the jury was asked to decide the question based on a video.  The jury watched the video in real time and in slow motion.  The returned a verdict indicating Mr. Lewis acted intentionally.

The issue on appeal was showing the video in slow motion.  Slow motion increases perceived intent.  Research demonstrates that “compared with simulated juries who saw only the regular speed video, the odds of a unanimous first-degree murder verdict were 3.42-fold higher among juries who saw only the slow version, and 1.55-fold higher among juries who saw both versions. These results demonstrate that giving viewers the opportunity to view both speeds reduces the intentionality bias, but does not eliminate it.”

“Seeing replays of an action in slow motion leads viewers to believe that the actor had more time to think before acting than he actually did. The result is that slow motion makes actions seem more intentional, more premeditated.” In fact, jurors who saw the slow motion video were more than four times more likely to return a unanimous first degree murder verdict. The team found similar results using National Football League footage of prohibited helmet-to-helmet contact in video replay.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania said who cares?  Even if jurors, the court reasoned, were biased when they saw the slow motion, they had enough knowledge to correct for that bias: They were aware that Mr. Lewis shot the officer within two seconds of noticing him; and they saw the real-time version of the video in addition to the slow-motion version.  Unfortunately, research suggests that such knowledge can fail to offset slow-motion bias.

So assume if you wish that a video camera is an objective recorder of events (which it is not).  can But do not compound that error by assuming the playback of the video does not affect the viewer.  This is clearly an example of when the prejudicial value of slow-motion video outweighs the probative value in a case like this.  Contrary to what a court wants to believe, a jury cannot overcome their own bias.  “[I]t seems imperative that an empirical understanding of the factors that contribute to assessments of intent inform the life-or-death decisions that are currently based, in part, on the intuitions of lawmakers and their tacit assumptions about the objectivity of human perception.”