VR Journalism in the courtroom

Dec 18, 2017

Pepperdine student | Kristin Vartan

Through the lens of the criminal court casethat I attended at Van Nuys Courthouse West on November 5th (2017), I would like to demonstrate the potential of 360 video capabilities in the criminal court space. This court case involved two neighbors of an apartment complex: a white male plaintiff and his girlfriend versus the defendant, their black neighbor. The plaintiff claimed to have received a gun threat from the defendant and feared for his and his girlfriend'slife. He claimed that through the adjoining wall of his apartment and the defendant's he could hear the defendantsay, "ill shoot you in the face if you ever show up again." The plaintiff and his girlfriend wanted to leave, but the defendant kept threatening them and hitting a wall, which the plaintiff said went on for fifteen minutes. He said the defendant's voice went towards his apartment (406) and that the defendant eventually got out of his apartment and passed by the plaintiff's windows. He told the judge that he could clearly see that the man yelling the threats was the defendant. Immediately the plaintiff called the police and got out of his apartment with his girlfriend. During the statement that the plaintiff was making, the defendant kept making comments under his breath, clearly in opposition to what was being said.

Virtual reality (VR) would be a helpful tool for the courtroom because they help viewers and juries see what is actually happening in the courtroom.

Once viewers put on their cardboard VR glasses, they can see up close what is actually happening in the courtroom in real time. They can see the stand, the judge, the jury, even the table withdefendant and the plaintiff up close and personal, just by turning their bodies around in a 360-degree fashion. Rather than seeing just one scene or side of the courtroom at a time, viewers can see the entire thing.

In the case that I attended, they could see the fear in the eyes of the plaintiff as he recalls the treats he heard from the defendant. Then the viewer could turn around and look at the defendants face as these accusations are being said. They could see if he rolls his eyes, or if he is outraged by being accused, or afraid because he is being convicted. The viewer can feel as if he/she is right in the thick of the trial and therefore be more involved in the process. In addition to creating a sense of accessibility for people that cannot attend, virtual reality broadcasting provides benefits for the trail itself--- by positively affecting the behavior of jurors in the courtroom. According to the Judge Thomas W. Brothers who has served as judge of the 6th Circuit Court, 29th Judicial District in Nashville, Tenn., having a having a camera in the courtroom did notdistract jurors or any parties involved in the case. In fact, it made jurors paid more attention to the case itself because they knew that they were on camera and that if the case was being recorded, it was vital to pay more attention to what was happening during the trial.

Virtual reality cameras are great for this reason too. Their small size makes them less intrusive in the courtroom than a bulky television broadcast camera, but the knowledge that they provide by recording a 360 view of the room entails that everyone in the room can be seen at any time. Therefore, all parties involved would be more alert and cordial to one another since they know that they are being filmed.


Kristin Vartan, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response being asked how her major, journalism, could improve the trial process.

Sign Up for Pfeiffer Law's Monthly Newsletter

Contact Jon and his team today.

Subscribe