Manipulating Juries with PowerPoint

Interesting article on the subconscious visual tricks used to manipulate juries and affect verdicts.

In December 2012 the Washington Supreme Court threw out Glasmann's convictions based on the "highly inflammatory" slides. As a general rule, courts don't want prosecutors expressing their personal opinion to a jury; they're supposed to couch their arguments in terms of what the evidence shows. Plastering the word "GUILTY" on a slide -- not once or twice, but three times -- was a "flagrant and ill intentioned" violation of this principle, the Washington Supreme Court wrote. The captions superimposed on the photos were "the equivalent of unadmitted evidence."

One justice, Tom Chambers, wrote that he was stunned at the state's contention that there was nothing wrong with digitally altering the booking photo. "Under the State's logic, in a shooting case, there would be nothing improper with the State altering an image of the accused by photoshopping a gun into his hand," Chambers wrote.

Jeffrey Ellis, a lawyer from Portland, Oregon, represented Glasmann on appeal. "We all know that commercials can try to persuade people on a subconscious level," Ellis said in an interview. "But I don't think the criminal-justice system wants to enter into that base arena."

I think we need some clear rules as to what's permitted.

Posted on December 23, 2014 at 2:19 PM • 15 Comments


AndrewDecember 23, 2014 4:07 PM

I've read long ago that there were some scientific tests about subliminal messages like these, nothing could be proved. They probably have the same effect as saying to jury "this dude is guilty", which they (probably) did already.

Tam and ~JerryDecember 23, 2014 4:11 PM

"But I don't think the criminal-justice system wants to enter into that base arena."

Wanna bet? The city that rolled over for counter-insurgency treatment is now helping ODNI probe the utmost limits of human credulity.

LessThanObviousDecember 23, 2014 5:57 PM

It seems like defense council should have the right to preview the presentation before the jury sees it. Hopefully if that was the case they would be inclined not to do PowerPoint presentations.

Bruce MangeeDecember 23, 2014 6:57 PM

Pretty bland instrument. Does it work?
I was prepared for 'lying with facts' or 'lying with math/numbers'. It's a pretty popular behavior here in the EU to lie that way in economics. ;)

ThothDecember 23, 2014 8:38 PM

It is called State Psy-Ops. The ability to use State powers to conduct Psy-Ops on the Court and the people. It includes the capability to twist the right to the wrong and the wrong to the right and shifting people's perceptions. This is how many presidents are tricked into declaring / making war by their sneaky subordinates. Those warhawks of Washington uses it on their allies to get them to do what they want too...

CynicistDecember 24, 2014 4:55 AM

'Jeffrey Ellis, a lawyer from Portland, Oregon, represented Glasmann on appeal. "We all know that commercials can try to persuade people on a subconscious level," Ellis said in an interview. "But I don't think the criminal-justice system wants to enter into that base arena."'

It hasn't already?

vas pupDecember 24, 2014 9:05 AM

@article:"Legal watchdogs have long asserted that prosecutors have plenty of ways to quietly put their thumb on the scales of justice —such as concealing exculpatory evidence, eliminating jury-pool members based on race, and so on."
Quietly put their thumb on the scale of justice? They have already the most powerful tool - plea bargain. This tool is like put openly foot on the scale of justice.

3wlnvoDecember 24, 2014 12:48 PM

There are a couple of different kinds of manipulation described in the article.

One is simply the use of arbitrary assertions, which if unsubstantiated with facts have no basis in reality.

The second kind is the fallacy of accent. By changing the spoken or written emphasis on words, the meaning can be distorted. Font coloring, size, and styling can be employed to do this. The cumulative effect of many subtle changes of emphasis across a range of slides in a presentation can add up to a large error in the mind of the reader.

More on the fallacy of accent is here:

3wlnvoDecember 24, 2014 4:31 PM

Also related is the film technique covered by the term mise en scene:

One aspect of this is that the foreground action in a film can be intensified by previously priming the subconscious with visual material.

For example, a man named "Mr. Archer" may be mentioned after the statue of an archer appears in the background of a recent scene. This can work to amplify the name in the mind of the viewer.

jayDecember 29, 2014 9:05 AM

What bothers me is the relative ease that imaged 're-creations' of a crime or accident scene can add credibility to what are actually purely speculative statements. Seeing a computer generated crime, or watching a computer generated vehicle path can make the conclusion easier to believe without any real evidence that it is correct.

vas pupDecember 30, 2014 8:35 AM

Manipulating judges with the voice:

My guess is that Justices subconsciously feel threat/dominance by masculine sounding lawyers and generate subconscious defense and counter-threat motivated reasoning against such lawyer and case he presented. Justices are more in tune with 'submissive' voice which creates opposite type of motivated reasoning, but that is just my humble educated assumption.

Happy New Year to Bruce, all respected bloggers, and even gov snoopers monitoring this blog!

vas pupJanuary 2, 2015 3:39 PM

Good article on new technology as your alibi and Law:
This part in particular:
"In English and US jurisprudence, the members of the judiciary accept that the cost of proving everything is prohibitive," says Stephen Mason, a barrister in Bedfordshire, UK. The outcome is instead left to a combination of expert testimony and supporting low-tech evidence. After that, it's up to the jury to decide".

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