Man wearing VR headset

Jurors who view the scene of a crime in VR make better decision, study finds

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Jurors who view the scene of a crime in virtual reality (VR) before making their verdict in a court case have a better chance of reaching the right decision, researchers have said.

In a study published by the University of South Australia, researchers, legal professionals, police and forensic scientists simulated a hit-and-run scene, reconstructing the events with a laser scanner to compare verdicts between ‘jurors’ using 3D headsets and those relying on photographs from the scene.

They found that the jurors using the VR headsets had better recall, spatial accuracy and more consistent verdicts.

“Virtual reality also required significantly less effort than using photographs to piece together the sequence of events,” said researcher Dr Andrew Cunningham.

Study participants viewing the scene through a 3D headset were 9.5 times more likely (87 per cent) to choose the same verdict – death by dangerous driving – than the group who relied on photographs, who were split 47/53 per cent between a careless driving verdict and dangerous driving verdict.

“Participants who were immersed in the scene were more likely to correctly remember the location of the car in relation to the victim at the time of the accident, whereas it was difficult for people to visualise the scene from still images.

“This provides unequivocal evidence that interactive technology leads to fairer and more consistent verdicts, and indeed could be the future of courtrooms,” Dr Cunningham claimed.

The team believes that site visits are still the “gold standard” in providing juries with a realistic impression of a scene, but they also have their drawbacks.

“They are expensive – especially in remote locations – and in some cases the site itself has changed, making accurate viewings impossible,” lead researcher Dr Carolin Reichherzer added.

VR has precedence in the court room internationally, such as in 2019 when the Bavarian State criminal office created an interactive scene of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp to aid the prosecution’s case in a war crimes trial.

The technology is also being used in healthcare settings – one study from 2019 found it was useful for easing anxiety in patients facing neurosurgery.

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