Are you a master of making brilliant Microsoft PowerPoint slideshows to augment your presentations? You’re not the only one; it’s widely known as one of the best mediums to create a compelling, professional slideshow. It’s used in classrooms, training sessions, and much more. However, there’s one profession where PowerPoint’s effectiveness is questionable: A prosecutor in a court case.
It might not make sense. Wouldn’t a prosecutor who’s in charge of bringing in the bad guys find PowerPoint to be an excellent tool for their profession? Ordinarily, yes. The problem is that PowerPoint presentations are often abused to influence the jury unfairly, and therein lies the issue.
In a Washington court case, one prosecutor was brought up on charges for an incriminating PowerPoint presentation. Isn’t this the job of the prosecution, though? It could be argued that the prosecutor is only supposed to present evidence against the defendant, but too many presenters are using the freedom offered by PowerPoint to seemingly make the jury’s decision themselves.
As reported by WIRED magazine, “US courts have reversed a criminal conviction because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint.” This is such a frequent occurrence that it has happened 10 times over the past two years. This also brings up the question of what fair use of PowerPoint consists of, and even that is pretty hazy. We know one thing for certain, though: Using a defendant’s mug shot, complete with flashing red letters saying “Guilty,” probably isn’t fair use.
Prosecutors might feel like they’re simply getting their point across with this display, but legal scholars feel otherwise. This particular method of using a slideshow against the defendant in such a manner is known as “visual advocacy.” This is when the prosecutor subconsciously manipulates the signals sent to the jury through an image. In the aforementioned example, displaying the defendant in their prison garb completely destroys any notion of “innocent until proven guilty,” which is one of the founding principles of the United States justice system. In essence, it’s the same thing as “unadmitted evidence.”
You might see how this can be a sensitive topic. Topics like these making headlines only seem to solidify in the minds of business owners how powerful a PowerPoint presentation can be when presented in the proper manner. Not all PowerPoints are going to be used in the courtroom, so the convincing medium can be used to support other professions that continuously demand presentations or training. Enter, the small business owner.
It’s clear that more concise rules should be integrated in order to make PowerPoint presentations effective (and, more importantly, fair) in the courtroom. Until then, more prosecutors will attempt to exploit the subconscious signals sent to the jury from a slideshow presentation in an attempt to bolster their own professions. Whether or not it’s moral to do this is up for debate, but these prosecutors are only trying to do their job and lock away those who are truly guilty.
Were you surprised to find out that some of these cases were getting overturned due to PowerPoint? What are your thoughts on this topic? Let us know in the comments.