News and information useful to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students, faculty and staff.

Archive for November 16th, 2021

Does Size Matter? Thinking About Videos in the Courtroom

Recently, during the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse a lot of conversation came up about the nature of video. This, fortunately for me, does not have anything to do with the rules of evidence or really anything that requires any specific legal knowledge. Though there could certainly be a blog post discussing the minutia of legal matters in what we will look at today, but this is neither that post nor is it that day.

The Context

During the trial on Wednesday 10 November, the prosecution sought to play a video on an iPad that showed the events of the night in question. Before playing it, however, he mentioned that a zoom function on the iPad would be used. To be honest, with all the playback devices and options available I found the idea of using an iPad unusual. It was here that the defense objected. They argued that the ‘logarithms’ and ‘algorithms’ of “the Apple software on the device might show a distorted version by ‘creating what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there.’” The judge questioned if the video had been manipulated in any way. Further, the judge rejected the idea that zooming in on a video was the same thing as using a magnifying glass.pinch to zoom


The Technology

So what is going on here, at least from a technical perspective.

Back in 2007 at the launch of the iPhone the public-at-large was introduced to pinch-to-zoom, which is the most on-the-nose name for a technology since, well, maybe forever. In addition to this method, Apple devices also use a zoom feature which is very popular. Both work essentially the same: they alter the size of what is on the screen. What is occurring when you zoom in on something like a video is definitely amazing on its face, but it is not running any kind of serious software to manipulate the original file. It is certainly not doing anything like the work on Eulerian Video Magnification.

But what is an algorithm? Merriam-Webster give the essence of the word as, “a set of steps that is followed to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computer process.” An example of this would be a morning routine:


IF workday then Wake up early then Get out of bed then Shower then Brush teeth then Make coffee then Get dressed then Leave for work


IF NOT workday then Sleep in


Does this mean that the defense is correct that zooming into a video uses ‘algorithms’? On a technical level, yes, but that is only correct because this is a machine and its operation is dependent on following instructions; however, what the court is being asked to believe is that:


IF an iPad uses algorithms to zoom in on a video THEN what you see on the screen is a lie created by the algorithm


That is an incredibly specific argument that the defense is making about technology. Here is the statement expressed logically:


p -> q


Here is a truth table to examine the logic:


p q p->q


IF/THEN statements are known as logical implication, and this type of statement can be a little strange. Initially, we can simply ignore the last two lines of the truth table because the implication cannot be false if the initial premise is false. Consider a more obvious statement: IF you do your chores THEN I will give you a dollar. Whether or not I fulfill my part of the obligation rests on you doing your chores; however, if you do not do them then it really does not matter if I give you a dollar.

Back to the courtroom. Because computers just follow rules, at least for now, then we know it is true that computers (including iPads) use algorithms to zoom in a video. Somebody had to tell a computer that the pixels that make up a video whose resolution is 1280×720 need to keep their shape and space if you display the video at 120% of its original size. That leaves us needing to know if the algorithm “creates what it thinks is there.”  The short answer is that it does not. Pinch-to-zoom does not remove a video file from its “virginal state.”

Which is not to say that video should be accepted merely because we can see it with our own eyes. The quality of a video can be compromised when it is converted from one format to another, which is a very common practice with digital video. For example, video is sometimes shot in one format, .raw for example, then converted or rendered to another, like .mp4, because it makes the video smaller, easier to stream, or work on a wider array of platforms. There are also less innocent examples for video modification when you consider the growth of technology like deep fakes. None of this is what the defense is arguing.

The Conclusion

While it is possible for a video to lose its “virginal state” due to any number of regular practices or intentional deceptions, there is just nothing inherently additive or destructive occurring when you use pinch-to-zoom. Even the effectiveness of zooming a video is determined not at the time of viewing but based on the hardware and software constraints of the tool that took the video initially. The well-known scenes of zooming in on license plates from bodega video cameras in shows like CSI is just not possible.

This culminated with the video being shown on a Windows computer connected to a TV. The full screen feature was not even used for playback.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson opined that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” In an attempt to reduce ignorance of technology, this blog will begin a new feature titled Comment 8 to help you maintain competence in the daily technologies that will define your profession and daily life. The first planned topic will cover VPNs.


Professor Karin Mika Receives AALS Legal Writing, Reasoning & Research Award

Photo of Karin MikaC|M|Law Senior Legal Writing Professor Karin Mika was awarded the 2022 Section Award of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  This prestigious award honors an individual for an outstanding contribution to the field of legal writing, reasoning and research.  The Awards Committee particularly noted “Professor Mika has dedicated the better part of her career to academia.  She has advocated to improve the status of legal writing professors….  Her talent as a teacher and mentor over the past 30 or so years is undeniable….  Generally regarded as the ‘Keeper of the Flame,’ Professor Mika has been a faithful archivist and historian for the legal writing community, preserving our memories and experiences through documents, photos, and friendships….  Professor Mika is a passionate and selfless advocate who has been a backbone of the national legal writing community.”  Professor Mika has been associated with the C|M|Law Legal Writing Program since 1988, and is a research consultant for Cleveland area businesses and firms.  She presents nationally on topics related to integrating technology and multimedia into classroom teaching, and has published in the areas of Native American Law, Employment Law, Learning Theories, and Health Care.