Rittenhouse defense incorrectly claims iPad pinch-to-zoom modifies footage

The judge demonstrated a lack of technical knowledge.

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Jon Fingas
November 11, 2021 9:21 AM
In this article: news, gear, crime, Apple, law, iPad, Kyle Rittenhouse
James Armstrong, a photographic expert in the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, testifies about drone video during the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha (Wisconsin) Circuit Court in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., November 9, 2021. Mark Hertzberg/Pool via REUTERS
POOL New / reuters

A lack of technical knowledge may have just influenced an important court case. The New York Times reports the defense for shooter Kyle Rittenhouse incorrectly claimed that an iPad's pinch-to-zoom function could modify footage of the incident, "creating what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there." That sparked a debate between lawyers and Judge Schroeder, who maintained the burden was on the prosecution to show the imagery remained in its "virginal state," not on the defense to prove manipulation.

The judge may have accepted the argument. He denied the prosecution's request for an adjournment and instead called for a 15-minute recess, suggesting the team could find an expert to support their claim in that space of time. They didn't, and The Verge noted that the trial resumed with the jury watching video on a Windows PC connected to the courtroom TV.

As you might imagine, the defense's claim played fast and loose with the truth. Pinch-to-zoom on all devices may use algorithms, but only to scale the image — it doesn't change the content itself. This was an attempt to prevent the jury from getting a clearer view of the action, not a genuine challenge to the integrity of the video.

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The court scene underscored a recurring problem with technical inexperience in criminal cases. When judges and law enforcement don't understand how technology works, they may set unrealistic expectations or even skew the outcome of a case. Police have repeatedly asked for Alexa recordings on the unfounded assumption that smart speakers are always recording, for instance. While it's not clear if the inaccurate pinch-to-zoom claim will significantly affect Rittenhouse's fate, it certainly didn't help jurors.

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