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Attorneys turn to drone footage to wake up jurors, win cases

In an effort to engage jurors – and to swing a trial’s outcome in their client’s favor — some attorneys have been turning to drone photography and videography to enhance court presentations.

While drone photography hasn’t been used extensively in court, its use is growing, according to Michael Miller, president of MGM Trial Services in Hunt Valley.

In particular, Miller said, drone photos can help jurors understand matters in real estate controversies and in cases involving environmental protection.

“When you put a bunch of strangers in a jury box who don’t want to be there anyway, it’s hard to visualize,” Miller said of the technicalities of legal cases. “Lawyers live and breathe cases, and they think everyone understands it all, and they don’t. This tool helps us explain what’s going on and shows you the scope.”

Since he obtained a drone and a license to pilot it commercially two years ago, Miller said that his company has provided drone footage in cases involving construction injuries, flooding and environmental preservation.

Shooting drone footage isn’t the main service MGM provides – the company specializes in producing PowerPoint presentations and graphics for in-court use — but Miller said more law firms should consider the usefulness of drone footage in their cases. 

He added that high-definition drone footage is often preferable to that from cameras on the ground or Google Earth images, since drones can zoom in on buildings or other objects and still get a clear picture.

While drone images might not show an accident or a crime in progress, the sweeping, bird’s-eye view often helps judges, juries and even opposing counsel understand the issues at stake in a case.

Miller has provided drone footage for Philip Federico, a founding and senior partner at Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A. in Baltimore.

While Federico was unable to discuss the particular case, which is ongoing, he noted that drones provide valuable evidence that can’t be obtained any other way.

Tracking the origins of industrial runoff or following trucks from a factory or plant to observe any harmful disposal practices can all be done more easily with a drone, Federico said.

“When people are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, like disposing of toxins in some unsafe fashion, you can certainly fly a drone over a plant and look at the daily practices,” Federico said. “You can follow trucks to wherever they’re going, and whether they’re disposing of toxins in accordance with permits or guidelines for the EPA or the local governing body.”

Federico said drone footage can tip off attorneys to where waste is entering the environment, so they can then go and take samples.