Ashley Lyn Sourapas
When using evidence that pertains to math or physics, lawyers have ways of presenting the evidence to make it seem like their side is right.
Ashley Lipson, professor of law, spoke about how mathematical and scientific evidence is presented in court and also how it can be altered to provide different perspectives.
“I learned a lot of devious things,” Lipson said.
About 25 years ago, Lipson wrote a book on demonstrative evidence in which he examined how evidence was presented in order to help a case instead of hinder it.
Presenting evidence by using scientific terms mean a lot to jurors, Lipson said, because it gives the assumption that research was done and facts were confirmed.
Lipson would often look at cases where the mathematical calculations in the evidence were not scrutinized because they were assumed correct.
“I’m trying to find people with great wisdom and what I’m finding is people can’t add,” Lipson said.
In 1975 Congress came up with the Federal Rules of Evidence, as a result of the deviant use of evidence. Its purpose was to regulate and control evidence from being used in a way that will cause prejudice to someone, confuse witnesses or jurors or waste the court’s time.
The problem with this law is that it did not point out how to present evidence, which leads to people presenting misleading information. One example was the usage of graphs that had been altered to suit the presenter’s needs, also known as data manipulation.
“By making those charts larger and smaller you could alter the perception of the jury and judge,” said Alfred Clark, associate vice president for academic affairs.
By altering the scale on a graph, numbers can seem detrimental when in reality they have little or no effect.
“I find it interesting how people interpret numbers,” said Nicholas Weeks, a legal studies major. “People don’t look at the details, instead they are more concerned about the images.”
A way of monitoring mathematical and scientific evidence is through judicial notice, the idea that the court accepts certain things as true, such as electricity is dangerous and not everything a cow eats turns to milk.
Due to judicial notice, some cases are dismissed because they are not accepted in court. An example of this is the 2008 case Sancho vs. United States Department of Energy.
The lawsuit attempted to block the first experiment of a supercollider because cosmologist Luis Sancho argued that by bombarding particles, the fusion will get out of control and create a miniature black hole.
Lipson also explained the “CSI effect.”
When jurors are selected for a trial they expect it to resemble what they see on the television show “CSI,” where the gruesome evidence such as blood and skin particles are present in court.
However, most cases do not have abundant evidence of this nature. Due to the CSI effect, lawyers have to present their evidence carefully and finish quickly.
“When you think of law, you don’t think of math,” senior psychology major Monique Guzman said. “You think of forensics. So it was interesting to hear about that.”
Karlie Bettencourt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Lyn Sourapas can be reached at email@example.com.