Virtual Reality (VR) games and cinema are already popular among technology enthusiasts for the kind of experience they offer. Imagine the same technology reaching the courtrooms, assisting jurors in taking a better call or deliver a more accurate verdict. That day doesn’t appear to be too far. A team of researchers, legal professionals, police, and forensic scientists have explored the idea and the results are encouraging. 

A correct verdict — whether it’s a car accident or a murder case — can be influenced by a juror’s spatial awareness. However, the judgment may not always prove to be accurate despite all the experts and expertise involved. But a study — “Bringing the jury to the scene of the crime: memory and decision-making in a simulated crime scene” — by the University of South Australia has demonstrated overwhelming evidence in support of using VR technology in courtrooms and helping jurors make the correct decision.  According to the team, it effectively brings a car accident or a murder case in front of their eyes through simulation.

VR technology, however, has been used in a courtroom previously. In 2019, an interactive scene of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp was simulated by the Bavarian State criminal office to assist the prosecution’s case in a war crimes trial.

3D headsets in courtrooms?

For the purpose of the study, a team comprising members from a wide array of fields, including forensic, legal, as well security, simulated a hit-and-run scene. They reconstructed the events with a laser scanner and compared judgments between “jurors” using 3D headsets and those depending just on photographs from the scene. The results, the team said, were encouraging as they showed “spatial accuracy and more consistent verdicts” in the cases of 30 jurors who participated in the study. 

Not just that, the participants using the 3D headset were found to be 9.5 times more likely to choose the same verdict — “Death by Dangerous Driving” — as compared to the group that relied entirely on photographs. Others, according to the experiment, were split 47-53 between careless driving and dangerous driving. 

In a statement, Dr. Andrew Cunningham from the University of Southern Australia’s Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments said that the VR technology also required significantly less effort compared to the photographs to put together the sequence of events.

“Participants who were immersed in the scene were more likely to correctly remember the location of the car in relation to the victim at the time of the accident, whereas it was difficult for people to visualise the scene from still images,” Dr. Cunningham said.

Dr. Carolin Reichherzer, a lead researcher, said that site visits were still the gold standard when it comes to providing jurors with the most realistic impression of the scene, but added they also had their drawbacks.  “They are expensive — especially in remote locations — and in some cases, the site itself has changed, making accurate viewings impossible,” Dr. Reichherzer said.