By Gene Miller, Alaris Trial and Media Services Manager
Imagine this scenario: you’re sitting on a jury early in the morning, trying to stay awake while listening to a witness read their deposition in a voice so monotone it could give Charlie Brown’s teachers a run for their money. As a jury member, you know that you decide the fate of the people involved – but it is so hard to stay focused.
This is the struggle all lawyers face – how to make sure that their jury is engaged and focused throughout the trial. Too often the above example is the case; you, the lawyer, know the witness is reading the key piece of evidence from their deposition, and the courtroom is completely zoned out. The reality is that it can be hard for juries to pay attention, and the real battle in court becomes keeping them engaged.
Some people compare written and video depositions to books and movies – the same information in a different presentation. That’s not the case. Books are written composition with flowery language and adjectives describing the dialogue. Depos, while important and vital, do not. Imagine a book of only dialogue – it would be a very difficult thing to read. The fact is that audio and video depositions provide a human element that a written deposition simply cannot. The following are a few key advantages to using a video depo.
First, video depos provide a human element to the statements given. This is anything and everything from a person’s body language (Are their arms crossed? Are they relaxed, tense, or wound up?), to their mannerisms (Are they fidgeting? Do they blink when answering questions? Where are their eyes looking?) and facial expressions and behavior. These are all things not conveyed with a written depo. Depos are not literary prose; they are simply people answering questions.
Second, witnesses can tell their own story in a video depo. This makes a huge difference in how the jury feels about a case. It is the difference between hearing that someone was struck by a drunk driver and seeing the victim talk about how their life has been affected by the accident. This forces the jury to think of the individuals involved as real people and encourages empathy. This is also imperative to keeping the jury engaged and interested throughout the trial.
Finally, video depos are stored for years. Of course, this is necessary in cases that can take years to settle or reach the point of trial. This helps to keep the people involved accountable to what they said and how they felt at the time of the depo. An example would be a former tobacco executive who said they knew their product caused cancer and then later rescinded their statement. This can often be fundamental to getting a conviction in the future.
These are, of course, only a few reasons that video depositions are indispensable for trial. Most importantly, lawyers need to help the jury connect to the narrative of what happened, and video depos are a beneficial tool for accomplishing that goal.