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Tron Meets Justice: Virtual Reality in the Courtroom

The relentless march of technology advances onward with virtual reality not only changing how we recreate, but also how we dispense justice.

Researchers from Staffordshire University in England have been handed a $200,000 grant to develop methods of presenting crime-scene evidence to jurors and other courtroom participants through the use of virtual reality technology, according to the Wall Street Journal. But are there drawbacks to entering the Grid?

The Promise and the Hype

For a number of years, litigators and science fiction junkies alike have often wondered and marveled at the prospect of outfitting the courtroom with virtual reality capabilities. It's not just a tech-for-tech's sake fantasy. Virtual reality could give fact finders a more immersive and realistic experience of the crime-scene.

Well, now it's time to see if the reality will live up to the promise. Caroline Sturdy Colls, a leader professor at Staffordshire University and leader of the VR project, feels confident in the technology's ability to deliver up a more "accurate record" and a "more effective means of presenting evidence in court."

Skeptics -- and the Queasy

Back here in America, the notion of bringing VR into the courtroom is not new. William & Mary's Law School Center for Legal and Court Technology explored techniques to do just that and came away with the conclusion that implementation was not far-fetched and could be done. That was back in the early 2000s.

But there is skepticism and pushback as anyone would expect for new technology. There are dangers that the glimmer of new tech will distract from the primary pursuit of truth and justice. What of the potential that jurors would regard going to court as an exercise to witness gruesome crimes -- or even treat the experience like a game?

And then there's the other problem...

Even Fredric I. Lederer, the leader of the WMLS project, conceded that VR tech had the ironic drawback of being too realistic. "I wouldn't want to lose a quarter of my jury because they're trying not to throw up," the professor said.

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