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Law School's Lab Trial to test admission of allegedly fabricated computer evidence

  • The McGlothlin Courtroom
    The McGlothlin Courtroom  William & Mary Law School reopened the McGlothlin Courtroom after an extensive renovation project undertaken during the summer of 2009.  Photo courtesy of the William & Mary Law School
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The Center for Legal and Court Technology (CLCT), in conjunction with the Federal Judicial Center (FJC), FBI, and the Department of Justice’s Computer Crimes Section, will conduct its annual Laboratory Trial on Oct. 16 in the McGlothlin Courtroom at the William & Mary Law School. The high-tech Lab Trial will begin at 9 a.m. and is free and open to the public on a first come first served basis.

CLCT Lab Trials are experiments that test the innovative use of technology to help resolve legal disputes. This year’s criminal trial is designed to test: the degree to which it may now be possible to remotely fabricate digital evidence on another’s computer; how well jurors can understand computer experts; and what would the Defense look like in such a case.

The defendant in United States v. Varic is charged with attempting to obtain a child for use as household help from a foreign country. The government’s evidence consists primarily of incriminating emails and other electronic evidence, which the defendant claims was fabricated by a third party trying to “set her up.”

“Can someone with significant technical capabilities flawlessly use someone else’s computer to manufacture evidence so that person’s computer becomes a deadly false ‘witness’ against its owner?” asks Chancellor Professor of Law and CLCT Director Fredric Lederer.

The representative jury will be made up of community members with different backgrounds and levels of technical understanding.  The trial will be presided over by United States District Court Judge and Director of the FJC, Barbara Rothstein. The expert witnesses will be supplied by the Department of Justice and William & Mary law students will act as the attorneys in the case. Experts from the FJC and the National Center for State Courts in conjunction with CLCT staff will use the trial to better understand how jurors may react to criminal cases involving computer evidence and to refine CLCT’s future research agenda.

“We’ll examine how the attorneys would present this type of evidence, how the judge would handle it and, most importantly, how a jury would respond to it,” Lederer said. “We want to see how fully the jury considers the more technical information, where and how the jurors might become confused or dismissive, and how this  defense might be received.”

Founded as the Courtroom 21 Project in 1993, CLCT is a joint venture of the Law School and the National Center for State Courts that seeks to improve the world’s legal systems through the appropriate use of technology.

For further information contact Laura Feltman, 757-221-3819,