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Film Fridays: Does Presentation of Scenes Affect Jury Decisions?

Here is an entertaining news update to start your weekend!

Edward Byam, Derrick Dunkley and Akeem Monsalvatge were convicted of two robberies in 2010 and 2012 at the Brooklyn Federal Court in 2013. In the first robbery, the convicts wore bandanas and stole about $44.000. In the second one, they robbed a check-cashing store in Queens and even cleaned out over $200.000. The trio wore scary masks and police officer costumes. One robber used bleach to destroy their DNA on a teller counter.

Does this second robbery remind you of anything? Exactly: It can be easily compared to the Oscar-nominated crime drama movie “The Town” directed by Ben Affleck (2010). In this film, the robbers wear masks and nun costumes. They pour bleach for disguising the DNA on a teller counter, too.

Because of these similarities, the Prosecutors decided to present four scenes of this robbery in “The Town” to the jury emphasizing that the story inspired the convicts.

Two days ago, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this presentation of “The Town”-scenes did not influence the Jury. As a consequence, the trial judge ensured a fair and neutral trial.

Judge Debra Ann Livingston held: “Our courtrooms are not movie theatres. But we cannot assume that our jurors — whom we routinely ask to pore over the violent and often grisly details of real crimes — are such delicate consumers of media that they would so easily have their passions aroused by short film clips of the sort at issue here.” She added: It “helped to show that the defendants’ modus operandi changed because they decided to incorporate ideas from the movie into their method for committing robberies.” Another Judge agreed with this opinion.

However, in a concurring opinion Judge Analisa Torres stated: “Not only is wearing a disguise for a robbery a scene a faire, but, when committing the 2010 robbery, the defendants had already employed the technique of covering their faces using, according to one witness at trial, a ‘cloth mask.’ Thus, with respect to their use of a device to obscure their faces, any similarity between the 2012 robbery and The Town does not tend to prove that the defendants adopted a new approach.” Further, she wrote: “Although some of the techniques employed by the fictional robbers in The Town are similar to the modus operandi in this case, there are significant differences that vitiate the clips’ probative value.” Nonetheless, the reason why this error did not influence the jury was because the Prosecutors could prove the case beyond all reasonable doubts anyway.

As you can see: Usually, it is the entertainment industry which is inspired by the reality, but sometimes, it is vice versa!


Disclaimer: Please note that the information contained within this blog post and site is offered simply as a consideration to visitors who are in the entertainment industry and are seeking to learn more about various areas of entertainment, be it in film, movies, television, music, digital, new media, film financing, merchandising and/or branding. As such, the information so provided should never be construed as legal advice. If you need further assistance or legal advice for your specific matter, please do not hesitate in contacting an entertainment attorney (film, music, digital, licensing, financing) here in Los Angeles, California at The Hollywood Lawyer by(1) emailing us at; (2) calling us at (323) 300-4184; or (3) filling out our online form. 

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