In Washington state this month, an appeals court voided a murder conviction and took the prosecutor to task for a bad PowerPoint presentation, The Marshall Project reports. The prosecutor had dressed up her closing argument to the jury with a series of slides, including sound effects and animation, culminating in one with “GUILTY” flashing in 96-point red type. At least 10 times in the last two years, courts have reversed convictions because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint. In other cases, an appellate court has taken note of such misconduct while upholding the conviction or reversing on other grounds.
Critics have long asserted that prosecutors have plenty of ways to put their thumb on the scales of justice, such as concealing exculpatory evidence and eliminating jury-pool members based on race. Now they can add prosecution by PowerPoint. “It's the classic 'A picture is worth a thousand words,'” said Eric Broman, a Seattle attorney. “Until the courts say where the boundaries are, prosecutors will continue to test the boundaries.”