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Microsoft PowerPoint is Useful, but Not In the Courtroom

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Microsoft PowerPoint is Useful, but Not In the Courtroom

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Microsoft PowerPoint is a great presentation tool which can help you effectively convey information to your audience. This ability makes it a great medium for use in many types of professional environments. It can be used for webinars, lectures, and even the courtrooms; but is a legal trial really a place for a slideshow?


Let’s make the case for it, PowerPoint allows users to present a powerful argument for or against something. This practice is widely accepted in all professional venues, making PowerPoint an exceptionally useful tool for any defense attorney. Or is it?

Unfortunately, it makes things more difficult for them, because the prosecutor has access to the same technology. In a Washington court case, the prosecutor was brought up on charges for an exceptionally incriminating PowerPoint presentation, which was used as the prosecutor’s closing statement.

According to WIRED magazine, “US courts have reversed a criminal conviction because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint.”This was found to be true in at least 10 cases over the past two years. You might be wondering, what constitutes fair use of PowerPoint in presenting a court case? We’ll tell you what is not: Don’t use the defendant’s mug shot in a slide with a big, red “GUILTY” across it.

The reasoning behind this is simple, yet ever so complicated at the same time. Legal scholars are calling this method “visual advocacy.” This is a technique used to influence a jury’s decision through manipulating the subconscious signals sent via an image. For example, displaying a picture of a criminal in their prison garb as part of the slideshow eliminates the notion of innocent before proven guilty. This assumption is what the court system of the United States is built on. In the words of the Supreme Court, captions like the previously mentioned one would be “the equivalent of unadmitted evidence.”

This is a very touchy subject that can be difficult to understand. By observing how a well crafted PowerPoint presentation can influence the decision of a jury, it becomes clear that PowerPoint can be an exceptionally potent way of making an argument. Despite the well documented issues with the legal system, PowerPoint is a well regarded and effective tool used in most business presentations around the world.

However, in order for PowerPoint presentations to be useful in the courtroom, better defined laws governing what’s allowed to be incorporated into visual aids will need to be put into effect. If not, more prosecutors will likely try their hand at some of these slide show shenanigans.

Whether it’s legal to tag the guilty verdict on someone in a slideshow might be up in the air. It is fairly safe to assume that prosecutors who use presentations for this purpose are simply taking advantage of the technology available to them. This technology allows them to perform their duties better and uphold the laws of society.

What are your thoughts on PowerPoint as a presentation medium? Do you have any slideshow best practices you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.