Tag Archive for 'attorney'Page 2 of 16

The Increased Use of Forensic Animation Evidence in Court

With the increased use of computer generated imagery (CGI) in movies, people are quickly becoming accustomed to the world of digital animation.  Movies like Shrek and Avatar, and video games like GT5 are blurring the boundaries between real footage and animation.  Digital animation is also making its way into another area of life- the courtroom setting.

Forensic animation evidence is quickly gaining popularity in both civil and criminal trials.  This is basically where the event of a crime or accident is digitally animated in order to present jurors with a representation of what might have happened.  For example, the prosecution may use a digitally created animation scene to trace the path of a bullet, JFK style.  Another common use of forensic animation evidence is in the area of vehicular accident reconstruction.  This requires extensive analysis and application of dynamic physics and mechanics.

Forensic animation was first introduced into courtroom settings as early as 1992.  Since then, more and more lawyers are using animation sequences when presenting their arguments in courts.  The increased use of such evidence has raised many concerns regarding whether animated evidence is admissible in court.  Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of forensic animation evidence:


  • May help jurors and witnesses to grasp situations and concepts that might be hard to visualize
  • Many people, especially the younger generation, are used to seeing real-life situations rendered in an animated format
  • Forensic animation technology is evolving to become more accurate in terms of physics, graphics, etc.  (thought they’re usually not as visually spectacular as say, the latest Xbox game)
  • May increase an argument’s persuasiveness, as visual images tend to be more long-lasting in a person’s mind than verbal communications


  • Animation may be subject to technological bias and manipulation, as courts still need to work out a system for verifying whether a presentation is accurate
  • Many consider forensic animation to be a “figment” of the producer’s imagination
  • Unpredictable factors may be difficult to incorporate into the animation, such as weather conditions, faulty vehicle parts, and the mechanisms of the human body upon impact
  • Motions that are actually physically impossible may be included in the animation

Many of the benefits of forensic animation depend on what the evidence is being used for in trial.  To clarify, there are two basic uses of forensic animation evidence:  “Substantive” animation and “demonstrative” animation.

Substantive animation is where the evidence is used to show how an event may occur based on the laws of physics and other computations.  The animation is basically a visual rendition of a carefully calculated mathematical equation.  On the other hand, demonstrative animation is where the sequence is used simply to show how an event could have happened given the circumstances.  With demonstrative animation, the animator has much more leeway to create a number of possible outcomes.

In my opinion, the use of forensic animation evidence should be limited to substantive animations, wherein the sequences can be proved using scientific and mathematical computations.  As mentioned, visual images tend to “stick” much more in a person’s mind, and showing countless sequences of hypothetical situations to a jury might skew their perception of the facts.

Also, I feel that forensic animation evidence should be limited to the analysis of mechanical systems and non-living objects, such as cars, motorcycles, bullet trajectories, or engineered systems (such as a power plant explosion).  For example, forensic animation has been used in attempts to show how the human body might react to certain forces, like a gun shot wound.  But in my opinion, the human body is too complex and unpredictable to be reduced to a digitally animated sequence.  After all, any animation is still an artist’s rendition of an unknown event.

All that being said, it looks like forensic animation evidence will continue to be used in civil and criminal cases.  In fact, I predict that it will probably become a standard part of the way cases are presented.  Forensic animation will likely become a large part of the legal career field as well, and may include formal courses on the subject.

In the meantime, the evidence should be limited to substantive animations that can be calculated.  Also, forensic animators should be treated like neutral, expert witnesses who can verify what might or might not be possible under the circumstances.  In my opinion, the animation field obviously needs a lot of polishing before it can be fully credible.  And now, back to that Shrek marathon.

California Bar Ready to Admit Illegal Alien as Lawyer

The number of jokes and stories about amoral attorneys and dishonest lawyers could fill a library. Most of these tales, however, illustrate the moral hypocrisy of a profession which claims to uphold the law but often has members which disregard and disrespect the system they say they support.

Sergio Garcia adds a fresh tome to this library of antics. Garcia is applying for a license to practice law in California. He obtained a JD (juris doctorate – a law school degree) and passed the bar exam. There’s just one small problem: Garcia isn’t suppose to be in California or the rest of the United States for that matter. Sergio Garcia is an illegal immigrant who was brought to this nation as a toddler. After leaving for a few years, he returned as a seventeen year old and attended college while working as a beekeeper with his father. Now the California Supreme Court has to decide if Garcia’s citizenship status, or lack thereof, is a deterrent to practicing law in California.

The California Bar Association (CBA) asserts that Garcia has met all requirements to receive a license to practice law in California, including passing the bar exam and the moral character test. Although Garcia is an illegal immigrant, plenty of foreign students are given licenses to practice, but those licenses are not a permit for employment. The license given to Garcia, without the citizenship status, would only allow him to work pro bono, for free as community service, or as an independent contractor.

Groups opposing the case, however, state that Garcia has already broken the law by staying here illegally. The “moral character” test he supposedly passed states that he must have respect for the law. Although seventeen year olds are still considered minors, most courts will recognize that persons of that age have the ability to recognize right from wrong. Garcia, when he illegally came back to the United States at seventeen, knowingly violated the law and has done so for years. He cannot, in good conscience, serve the legal system of this nation when he himself has and is currently violating the law.

The reason this case is considered a precedent for the future is that it questions if a student here illegally can get a license. The foreign students who were admitted are documented and have their paperwork approved. The real injustice, opposition groups would conclude, is that a certain class of people are exempt from the law because of their place of origin is in close proximity to America.

In Garcia’s defense, his application for a green card has been pending for the last eighteen years, a wait period impossibly long for any sane individual. This doesn’t excuse his rule breaking, but the application does show intent to try to comply with the complex immigration laws. Perhaps it was this intent which allowed Garcia to pass the moral character test. Garcia did pass the current moral character test, even if outside observers would demand a higher standard for the test. There are also no residency or citizenship requirements for obtaining a license. The fact is, although Garcia shouldn’t be in California and should probably be deported, he can obtain the license to practice law in the state. It is astoundingly counter-intuitive and a huge paradox, but stranger contradictions have been made in our legal system.

The real offender in this entire debacle, however, is the California Bar Association, which is strongly arguing for Garcia’s admittance. There is a substantial difference between grudgingly giving a license out based on the requirements met and zealously advocating for the admittance of a man who has broken the law. Opponents of Garcia’s admittance believe that illegal immigrants are above the law and this latest case is a plank in their platform. Some applicants to the bar are turned down because of extreme debt or bankruptcy. Other applicants are rejected for having a history of criminal felony charges, even if the entirety of that history was committed as a minor and/or non-violent, such as through California’s Three Strikes law. It would be difficult to judge the accumulation of debt, a non-violent felony history or a status as an illegal immigrant and declare that one deprives a person of moral character more than the other.

The CBA is permitted to determine what exactly a moral character is, but all these examples, non-violent felony history, extreme debt and illegal immigration status, represent the violation of a social obligation. With the former two, it is possible to get a license, but it is doubtful that the CBA would help the applicants if the application is reviewed by a court. The CBA however, is advocating for Garcia and his illegal immigrant status. Garcia may be a paradox in the American legal system, but that paradox wouldn’t have risen if the California Bar Association hadn’t entertained the idea in the beginning.

Judges Replacing Lawyers with Machines for Some Tasks

Suppose a large company, as large companies are wont to do, gets itself involved in a lawsuit, either as a plaintiff or defendant. In the early stages of the lawsuit, a process known as “discovery” usually occurs, during which the parties exchange evidence that might be relevant to the case.

In many cases, this could involve combing through millions of documents in order to fish out the small percentage that might be relevant to the case at hand. This process is informally known as “doc review,” and is often carried out by dozens of lawyers working on contract with the firm that’s handling the case. Obviously, paying dozens of attorneys $30+ per hour for weeks, or even months, will get very expensive, very fast. So, for years, large corporations and law firms have been looking for ways to automate the process.

That is no simple task, however. Reading a document, parsing the meaning of its contents, and determining whether it’s relevant to the issues at hand, are tasks that machines have historically been terrible at, and have been considered the exclusive domain of human beings. That might be changing, however.

I’ve blogged before about how recent advances in artificial intelligence had the potential to significantly change how law is practiced. Super-powerful computers, combined with software systems like “Watson” (the computer that famously won Jeopardy last year), have become much better at processing natural human language, and parsing meaning from written content.

However, this change has happened faster than I might have predicted. A judge recently signed off on allowing a party to a large lawsuit (the owner of an airplane hangar whose roof collapsed from heavy snow, destroying over a dozen private jets) to conduct the first round of document review (which mostly involved combing through millions of company emails) with a computer program.

Some estimates place the cost of manual document review at over $1 per document. When tens of millions of documents might be involved, this gets very expensive, very quickly. Having a computer conduct the first few rounds of review could conceivably make the process faster, and much cheaper. And because the discovery process makes up the bulk of the expenses associated with large scale litigation, streamlining discovery could significantly cut the costs of litigation, having a trickle-down effect of reducing the costs of legal services for everyone.

However, when using machines to take over some of the tasks previously done by human lawyers, we have to be careful. After all, computers aren’t perfect. We’ve probably all seen computers do some pretty strange things that a human would never do, all because, at the end of the day, computers are still machines: they operate under pre-determined rules, applying them with rigid, unflinching logic, without the benefit of human intuition and adaptability. So, while this makes them very well-suited for any task that involves mathematics, but they’re still playing catch-up when it comes to things that are very easy for humans.

So, if we’re going to have computers doing substantive legal work (that is, actually analyzing legal issues, no matter how simple), we need to dip our toes in slowly. For example, if we let a computer conduct a large percentage of the document review in a particular case, without human oversight, there will be no way of knowing for sure that it didn’t miss any relevant documents, or let a significant number of irrelevant documents slip through.

Given what’s at stake in huge lawsuits (often tens or hundreds of millions of dollars), you want to be confident that the discovery process is handled well. For that reason, I think it’s essential for the legal system to ease into having computers, rather than people, do any type of substantive legal work.

There is no doubt that these technologies are impressive, and they have some incredibly useful applications in the legal industry, and many other sectors – particularly medicine. It’s been suggested that this technology could be used to assist doctors in diagnosing illnesses; they could simply enter a list of symptoms, and the computer could, in a matter of minutes, scour digital archives of every medical textbook and journal available, and suggest diagnoses that a human doctor might not have thought of. Furthermore, it’s possible that these systems could detect outbreaks of infectious diseases (by analyzing the data of large numbers of patients as they come in) before a human doctor would be able to.

And, putting aside the task of reviewing documents, these systems have other promising applications for lawyers and law firms. For example, their unprecedented ability to process natural language and parse meaning from documents would make computerized legal research much more efficient. This would likely not replace the jobs of many lawyers, but it could possibly let some law offices get by with fewer assistants and paralegals, which would cut their costs significantly.

So, while this technology shows promise, using it to replace the intuition and analytical abilities of a human being (in any industry, but in the legal sector in particular) should be approached cautiously and deliberately.

Virginia Legislatures Block Judicial Appointment of Gay Prosecutor

In a move which I’m sure their children will look back upon with great pride, Virginia lawmakers have blocked the appointment of a well-regarded prosecutor to the state’s bench.

Tracy Thorne-Begland serves as Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney in Richmond, and is a former Navy fighter pilot. By all accounts his professional record is impeccable, and his supervising attorney stated that he would have made an “outstanding judge.” Nonetheless, the state legislature voted 33-31 to block his appointment, and all of the votes against him came from Republicans.

So, why did state lawmakers choose to deny a judicial appointment to an extremely well-qualified attorney with an incredibly impressive professional record? Because hes gay.

Most of the people who voted against him didn’t even bother with a pretext. They claimed that the fact that he is gay and the fact that he is an advocate for gay rights causes meant that he couldn’t be an impartial judge.

This argument is, to be frank, completely absurd.

The notion that a person could not be an impartial judge because they served as activists in the past makes absolutely no sense. After all, every judge in the world is a person, and every person has opinions on a wide range of issues. You probably wouldn’t have heard anyone complaining if this judicial candidate had previously advocated for, say, environmental causes, or equal rights for African-Americans (or any other racial group). Nobody would speculate that such a record of advocacy would lead to someone pressing an “activist agenda” from the bench.

While this individual case is certainly unfortunate, and I imagine that the state will, sooner or later, see it for the embarrassment that it is; I think in some ways it’s a sign that the anti-gay rights movement is in its death throes. This reeks of a group of anti-gay forces becoming increasingly isolated and in the minority, and are simply lashing out at progress for LGBT individuals in the only way they know how: keeping them out of public life to the greatest extent possible.

However, recent polls show that public acceptance of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, is steadily increasing. Even in relatively conservative states like Virginia, the public probably won’t stand for this type of conduct for much longer.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that Mr. Thorne-Begland has little to no legal recourse. Generally, when it comes to voting to confirm judicial and other appointments, Congress, as well as state legislatures, are free to vote for or against a particular candidate, for any reason they like, and they are under no legal obligation to justify their voting choice (the political consequences of these votes are another issue entirely, however).

Furthermore, no federal law bans discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and while many states in the U.S. do ban such discrimination, Virginia does not appear to be one of them, and given the recent actions of its legislature, it’s doubtful that such a law is likely to be enacted in Virginia anytime soon. And I think that’s a shame.

In this relatively conservative state, Thorne-Begland has amassed quite a few supporters, with the likes of the governor and high-ranking judges calling the vote things like “embarrassing” and “disgraceful.” I tend to agree with them.

So, what can be done about this? Unfortunately, not much, at least in the short term. As discussed above, there is no legal recourse. And despite the fact that I think the lawmakers in this story did the wrong thing, and, frankly, should be ashamed of themselves, I think that the current method of appointing federal (and most state) judges, which involves an appointment by the chief executive (the president or governor), and confirmation by a majority of one or both houses of the relevant legislative body (Congress or the state legislature) is a good way to select judges.

Traditionally, the United States is seen as having three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. While the executive and legislative branches (the President and Congress, respectively) are both more or less directly elected, the judiciary is not. Typically, judges are appointed by elected officials, and usually serve for life (or until retirement or removal by impeachment or other legal procedure).

This means that we have judges who are more or less insulated from the political process: to keep their jobs, they don’t have to campaign. In fact, they don’t even need to be popular. I think this is exactly how it should be: judges should be as free as possible to answer hard legal questions according to their good-faith interpretations of what the law and constitution require, and they should be as insulated as possible from the ever-shifting whims of public opinion and politics. In general, having major constitutional issues resolved by “unelected judges” (a term only used when a judge rules in a way the speaker doesn’t like) has served us pretty well.

It does come at an unfortunate cost, however: legislatures can decline to confirm highly-qualified judicial appointees for terrible reasons.

However, everything we value as a society comes at a cost: not living in a police state comes at the cost of a slightly higher risk of being a victim of a crime, and protecting our rights to privacy and due process entails a slightly higher risk that people guilty of crimes will escape.

Likewise, ensuring that we have an independent judiciary that is as free as possible from judicial pressure means that judges will sometimes be appointed by people desperately clinging to an old set of views, out of step with an ever-growing segment of mainstream society.

9/11 Terrorist Defense Attorney Wears Islamic Hijab in Court to Respect Clients

Attorneys are expected to zealously defend their clients. Cheryl Bormann, however, has taken this expectation to realms previously unheard of.

Bormann represents Walid bin Attash, personal bodyguard and errand boy of the late Osama Bin Laden. Bormann appeared at a hearing last week wearing a traditional Islamic hijab, clothing which conceals all parts of her, with the exception of her face, despite the fact that she isn’t a Muslim. When the judge inquired Bormann why she wore the hijab, she explained it was to show respect to her client’s faith. Bormann then made a motion for other women in the court to dress similarly, as it would distract her client from the hearing and the subsequent trial.

This motion, combined with her client’s erratic behavior, dragged a hearing which should have lasted a couple of hours at most into a thirteen hour ordeal. Attash, who refused to answer the judge’s questions, rejected the translation headphones and launched into periodic prayers, stated that he had been treated poorly in Guantanamo Bay where he has been incarnated since his capture.

This story raises questions about the limits of respect and tolerance. Bormann has the right to dress as she wishes, provided that, as an attorney, her taste in clothing doesn’t interfere with her ability to represent her client. If she believes that wearing a hijab will enable her to communicate with her client more effectively, than I don’t see why she should be forced not to wear it. Bormann’s request that other women dress as she has, however, is another matter all together.

It would be delusional, at best, to believe that the women on the prosecution should comply with Bormann’s suggestion. First, if Bormann has the right to dress as she chooses, then so do other women. As long as all members of the court dress professionally, as defined by the judge, then they should be allowed to wear what they want. Second, the argument that mini-skirts would distract the defendant from focusing on the matters of life and death is flawed. It sounds like the reason Attash can’t control his lust is because of the way women look. This line of reasoning insults men by making men look like pigs unable to control their urges and pins the blame for male irresponsibility on women.

But even if we grant that Attash comes from a culture with a higher threshold for clothing decency, it is obvious from the defendant’s behavior that the prosecution’s clothing isn’t influencing Bormann’s motion. Attash was disinterested in the hearing the whole time. Blaming women’s clothing was a tactic to throw the judge and the rest of the court, not a real concern of the client’s.

However, the most loathsome aspect of the hearing was the fact that family members of 9/11 victims were watching the whole circus unfold. Imagine having lost a parent or a sibling or a child a decade ago to these men’s’ insanity and having to watch, today, an American defense attorney demand respect for the faith of those wrongdoers. A faith which, according to these men, pushed them to commit murder on a grand scale. Many victims would find it respectful if the terrorists were punished without this sideshow.

More importantly though, this hearing was a preview of President Obama’s decision to move terrorists out of military tribunals and into domestic courts for trial. If a hearing like this is being turned into a farce, then the American public can’t expect much from an actual trial. Why should we show respect for these men if they can’t respect us enough to participate in their own trial?

The terrorists of 9/11 are hypocrites of the worst kind, killing over 3000 innocents as a good deed but being afraid of hell for looking at a woman’s legs. Yet we as a country need not sink to their level of hypocrisy. Attash and his fellow terrorists shame Islam with their actions, but Americans honor the Constitution and its values by allowing Attash to be heard in our legal system, as our own principles dictate. That Attash and men like him have a voice full of hypocrisy and venom is not a surprise. The fact Americans allow him to use that vile voice is what separates us from him.