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February 20, 2024 Message from the Chair

Seeing Is Believing

Laura Possessky

The Lumiere brothers took Paris by storm on a wintery Saturday in 1896 by screening the first moving picture of a locomotive arriving at a station. So convinced by what they saw, the audience stampeded out of the theater to escape the oncoming train. While many people for many years have debated the story’s truth, it illustrates the power video has had from the very beginning. By the early twentieth century, video reached beyond novel entertainment as politicians recognized the power of video to influence opinion. As the first universal mass medium, video quickly became a valuable tool for governments and organizations to promote propaganda. Persuasion certainly has its role in the law and the first documented uses of video evidence arose in the 1930s. By the twenty-first century, digital innovations made video storytelling available to anyone with a phone: the resulting impact of digital media in court proceedings has presented myriad opportunities and challenges.

With the demonstrated ability of video to captivate, persuade, and influence people, video naturally plays a valuable role in the courtroom. Lawyers, who are trained storytellers, have relied on video evidence to artfully convince both judge and jury of their clients’ version of the facts. But video evidence also generates concerns about bias, voracity, and evidentiary authentication. Evidence procedures relating to admissibility are muddled with confusing and inconsistent approaches both within and across court systems. Technological innovations raise the stakes even further, as demonstrated by AI’s impact on video evidence, with increasingly sophisticated deepfakes presenting new and unique challenges for evidentiary authentication and admissibility.

Covering these topics and more, this issue also illustrates the important cross-disciplinary collaborations within the ABA Science & Technology Law Section. It is a collaborative outgrowth of a 2021 project by Dr. Sandra Ristovska, professor of Media Studies at University of Colorado Boulder, who was in residence with SciTech’s Scientific Evidence Committee as a Mellon/ American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Scholars and Society Fellow. Her project, “Through the Lens of the Law: Interpreting Video Evidence in US Courts in the Digital Age,” took an in-depth scholarly look at the use of video evidence in court proceedings. As part of this project, Dr. Ristovska presented the excellent and comprehensive program with SciTech, the Video in Legal Decision Making Webinar Series.

These cooperative exchanges forge new insights on how science and technology influence our work in the legal profession. SciTech’s active involvement of our associate members—technologists, scientists, researchers, and academics among others—inform, challenge, and question the course of the law in a way that lawyers often cannot. These unique dialogues have led SciTech to become an important voice within the ABA to inform practitioners of the evolution and developments influencing and transforming our legal system. The expertise of media scholars and professionals and their systemic exploration of the impact of video on society offer valuable perspectives to solve issues arising from video evidence in the courts. I hope this issue piques your curiosity as much as it did mine about the role of video evidence in court proceedings, and I look forward to hearing your reactions and reflections on the articles.

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