Technology On Trial
Sanction 1.7 Helps Police Defense
By David Horrigan
ON APRIL 16, 1998, a teenage girl was riding in a stolen Toyota Land Cruiser as it pulled into a convenience store parking lot in Mesa, Ariz. She would not leave alive. Five police officers riddled the vehicle with 36 bullets, many fired from a machine gun, killing both 17-year-old Tasia Patton and her 20-year-old companion, Michael Federici.
A court exhibit shows an aerial view of the incident in Mesa.
Their distraught parents declared the incident a gross example of police brutality. But the officers insisted they had no choice but to shoot, claiming that Federici was trying to run them over them with the large S.U.V.
In July 1998, Patton's mother, Donna Forrester, filed suit against the City of Mesa and the five officers, claiming that the police action against her unarmed daughter was "extremely negligent, unlawful and a willful, reckless, and excessive use of force." Forrester v. City of Mesa, No. CV98-13239 (Ariz. Superior Ct., Maricopa Co. filed July 23, 1998).
On Apr. 15, 1999, the divorced parents of the driver, Michael Federici, filed two separate suits in Maricopa County against the city and the officers, Federici v. City of Mesa, No. CV99-06628 and Pie v. City of Mesa, No. 99-07033. The two cases were consolidated into Forrester for trial.
The driver's father and namesake, Michael Federici, was represented by Ty Taber of Phoenix's Meyers, Taber & Meyers, P.C. His mother, Toni Pie, had separate counsel: Richard Gullette of Phoenix's Barton, Venable, Gullette & Randall, P.C.
The Defense Table
Trial technology would play a major role in the officers' defense when the case went to trial in the summer of 2001.
Attorneys Kathleen Wieneke and John Dicaro of Phoenix's Jones, Skelton & Hochuli defended the city and the officers.
Michael Hahn, who is co-owner and director of trial services for Verdict Systems, directed the tech strategy for the defense.
Maricopa County's electronic courtroom made his job easier, says Hahn. Not unlike the electronic courtrooms becoming commonplace in the federal system, Maricopa County's courtroom offers the latest in courtroom technology (but does not require counsel to take advantage of the tools should they wish to go "low tech").
At the court lectern, lawyers have the option of connecting a laptop, using the court's "Elmo" projector, or the court's VCR. Through the courtroom's video distribution system, the lectern is connected to flat panel monitors in the jury box as well as to displays and connections on each counsel table, the judge's bench, the witness stand and to monitors facing the gallery. The judge has a control switch to cut the video feed to the jury box and the gallery if necessary.
The state-of-the-art status meant that the defense team needed only to bring Hahn's Dell Inspiron 7500.
"All I had to do was plug my laptop into the connection at the counsel table," Hahn said.
Hahn's technology strategy centered on the defense position that the officers were defending themselves against two people who were under the influence of drugs and using a stolen vehicle as a deadly weapon.
Hahn used Verdict System's Sanction 1.7, Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint, and took advantage of the courtroom facilities to help make the case.
One of the most dramatic uses of technology involved police radio calls by Officer Amanda Keene. The city and the officers alleged that Federici put the S.U.V. into reverse, slamming into Keene's vehicle, and knocking her to the ground. Using Sanction, Hahn took the audio recording of the police tape and synchronized it with a transcript of Keene's call.
The defense synchronized the transcript to the audio.
Hahn received the transcript in a Microsoft Word file, converted it to ASCII, inserted page and line breaks, and, using a utility in Sanction, synchronized it with the police audio.
"Sanction operated like a jukebox, easily playing a selected portion whenever it was needed," Hahn explained.
Jurors were able to hear Keene's voice as a transcript of her words scrolled in front of them. Hahn says hearing Keene's voice at the same time they saw the transcript was important. "You don't come away thinking Officer Keane was just randomly shooting. She was being attacked, and feared for her life,' Hahn recalls.
After the trial, several of the jurors told the defense team that the Sanction presentation allowed them to follow the case better.
Attorney Kathleen Wieneke says she initially worried that taxpayer jurors might resent her client -- a government entity -- bringing so much high technology into the courtroom. However, post-trial interviews with jurors alleviated her concerns.
"The jurors appreciated the fact that we didn't have to waste their time by fumbling through documents," Wieneke said. "With technology in the schools and high-tech graphics on television, technology is no longer seen as an elite thing -- it's an everyday thing."
Alan Goldman of Phoenix's Goldman & Kaplan, Ltd. represented plaintiff Donna Forrester, the mother of decedant Tasia Patton. A veteran trial lawyer, Goldman says, "I'm a low tech guy. I like to talk."
Goldman did not use a computer during trial. Arizona law, he says, requires counsel to offer a tangible item -- a piece of paper, a videotape, a photo -- into evidence for everything displayed on a computer screen.
Although he took a low tech strategy, Goldman did avail himself of the courtroom's video distribution system. "Obviously, I used the Elmo (projector)," he said. He simply put his paper documents on the Elmo, allowing the jurors to see them over the same system on which they saw Hahn's Sanction presentation.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the city and the officers.
Goldman said he was disappointed. Patton was only a passenger in the vehicle, and a more sympathetic figure, so the consolidation of the cases was a factor that hurt him with the jury, he said. But Goldman does not blame technology for the loss. "They put on as good a high tech case as I've ever seen," Goldman said. "It made absolutely no difference" in the jury's verdict, he said, basing his conclusion on the comments of a juror who contacted him after the trial.
Although Goodman is a self-described low tech lawyer, he sees the future in courtroom technology. "I wish we didn't have the internal combustion engine. But, it's now a fact of life -- so is technology in the courtroom," he said.
"It's what they teach in law school. It's here to stay," said Goldman. "It's probably a good thing."
David Horrigan is assistant editor of The National Law Journal and contributing editor of Law Technology News.