skip to Main Content
This is an illustration of a gavel, with a bar chart embedded inside.

Data Visualization in the Courtroom

Edward Tufte pulled me onto the effective data communication bandwagon circa 2007, in one of his data visualization workshops. This was one of the visualizations that Tufte highlighted:

This is a table, titled Criminal Activity of Government Informants. There are rows for 27 types of crimes, from murder through reckless endangerment. There are columns for 7 government informants. There is an x for each of the types of crime that each informant committed. There are 69 x's in the chart.

Tufte said that he had read about a single chart that had exonerated the infamous mobster, John Gotti, so he set about tracking it down. The chart shows that the government’s witnesses against Gotti were not…shall we say…the most upstanding of citizens, suggesting that their testimony might not be trustworthy.

More recently, I saw a really impactful series of data visualizations, from the prosecution in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. It shows the 17,026 days that George Floyd lived with health issues prior to police use of deadly force.

When people hear the word “data,” they typically think of science and scientists. But, at a basic level, data are just multiple bits of information that were collected in a systematic way. Sure, maybe that information was collected in a lab or through a survey. But data can just as easily be:

  • A tally of criminal convictions (like the informant chart),
  • A unit chart (like the George Floyd visuals),
  • A calendar of dates (sigh),
  • Geographic locations, timelines,

  • Counts of suspicious calls from phone records,

This is a PowerPoint slide, with text and a pie chart. It reads, "Of the 207 phone calls Mr. Smith made between May 5 and June 12, 2021: 23% were to his wife and 41% were to his mistress.

  • Or a list of improper statements made in a transcript.

Humans, including judges and juries, are visual creatures. Visuals persuade audiences by capturing attention, improving comprehension, and eliciting emotion.

Are you a legal professional looking to use more data visualizations in your work? Contact us to learn more!

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back To Top