Yale Researcher Co-Authors Book on the Digital Revolution and the Law

In a world where video cameras are ubiquitous and PhotoShop can rewrite the past, the influence of the digital revolution in the courtroom is profound, as Christina Spiesel, a professional artist and Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School, and Quinnipiac Law Professor Neal Feigenson demonstrate in their new book, “Law on Display: The Digital Transformation of Legal Persuasion and Judgment” (New York University Press).

The image is outpacing verbal argument in courts of law, the authors argue, no less than in the general culture. To compound this sea change in the way we reason and communicate, multimedia technologies make it possible to manipulate images to bend arguments, to re-image reality. Further, they contend, while the proliferation of such devices as cell-phones with digital cameras and MP3s with camcorders along with the technologies to change and disseminate pictures have contributed to a “democritization of meaning making,” the digital explosion has also created an unprecedented challenge to the legal system. They write: “… [T]he more pictures play a part in legal judgment … the more traditional gatekeepers, judges and lawyers will be faced with the task of accommodating the wide range of meaning-making habits that all participants in the justice system bring to the screen from their everyday lives.”

Referencing such well-known cases as the Rodney King tapes and the O.J. Simpson trial, and using actual trials (and images) to illustrate their arguments, the authors demonstrate how the rapidly evolving digital technology has already affected the way lawyers present cases, and how judges and juries are swayed by visual evidence.

Designed to be accessible to the layman, this account of a complex and under explored subject also provides a note of caution to the legal profession and to anyone who might someday sit in a courtroom.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345