A judge in the US has made his technological illiteracy well-known when he entertained the idea that using the common pinch-to-zoom feature on an iPad alters digital images.

The strange scenes were broadcast during the high-profile trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a young man who shot and killed two men and injured a third during protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year.

Rittenhouse’s defence lawyer, Mark Richards, orchestrated the confusion when he objected to the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, showing Rittenhouse drone footage of the incident on an iPad.

“I don't know what the state's going to do next, but I suspect they're going to use the iPad, and Mr. Binger was talking about pinching the screen,” Richards said.

“iPads, which are made by Apple, have artificial intelligence in them that allow things to be viewed through three dimensions and logarithms.”

Yes, he said ‘logarithms’ instead of ‘algorithms’.

Richards then argued that, when you use your forefinger and thumb to pinch an image on an iPad, the Apple device shows you “what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there”.

Like a magnifying glass

Binger, somewhat baffled that his evidence was being questioned over pinch-to-zoom, said it was an extremely common feature akin to using a magnifying glass.

“When you use a magnifying glass to look at words on a paper or a photograph, the magnifying glass doesn’t change the image,” he argued.

“The pinch-to-zoom feature on the iPad or the iPhone or Android phone – whatever device everyone in this room has – does the exact same thing.”

He then claimed that if the defence wanted to make this argument, that it should produce an expert who can back it up.

But Judge Bruce Schroeder, a 75-year-old who is Wisconsin’s longest-serving judge, disagreed.

“I know less than anyone in the room, I’m sure, about all of this stuff,” he said.

“But I’m hearing [defence lawyer Binger] say that they are actually artificially inserting pixels into there, which is altering the object which is being portrayed.

“My thought would be that actually you're the one who's offering the exhibit, so you should be in a position to offer evidence as to the fact that it is not distorting the object which is depicted.”

The argument continued until Richards relented, showed the defendant, Rittenhouse, the same footage.

But instead of zooming in on an iPad, he displayed it on a nice big 4K TV.

Ironically, a 4K TV would likely have upscaled the image – a process by which it algorithmically inserts new pixels to make the image larger without losing quality.

No one objected in that instance.

Rittenhouse, faced with zoomed-out footage on a large TV that prosecution alleges showed him raising his rifle, said he couldn’t see it clearly.

“Mr. Rittenhouse,” Binger said during his derailed cross examination, “can you see in that video that you raised your weapon and pointed it at someone?”

“I can’t tell,” Rittenhouse replied.

Tactical victory

Mitchell Adams, a lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology’s law school, told Information Age this was likely a deliberate ploy by the defence.

“They might have been trying to take advantage of the judge’s lack of technological understanding,” he said.

“And it seemed to have worked.”

Adams said that, in the US, lawyers “have an ethical obligation to keep up with changes in the law as it relates to technology and must understanding benefits and risk associated with tech”.

“But the model for judicial conduct hasn’t caught up with that standard – in fact it hasn’t been updated since 2007.

“So maybe it’s time to add a similar requirement about maintaining certain knowledge about technology.”

Adams said he wasn’t sure of similar instances happening in Australia, but was aware that there are a lot of procedural aspects of court cases that don’t make the news, except in high profile trials like Rittenhouse’s.

“We have a lot of talk around increasing judge’s technological literacy in courts in Australia, though,” he said.

“We’re seeing more technology being used in courthouses and there is renewed interest to get judges on board.

“The Victorian County Court has a dedicated tech team to help judges – which was especially needed during the last two years when trials have been online.

“Overall I think they’ve done a good job with that in Australia.”

Trials over video calls have been a source of amusement for the internet.

One notably infamous video showed a lawyer who was unable to remove a cat filter and pleaded to the judge that he was, in fact, not a cat.

Then there was the time a plastic surgeon appeared in court for traffic violations while he was still in the operating theatre.

And who could forget the Zoom trial of Twitter hacker Graham Clark which was overrun by trolls who posted a pornographic video while the judge looked on in confusion.