How is A/V technology changing the way courts operate?The economic crisis of the late 2000s forced many industries to do more with less, but this wasn’t limited to the private sector. The public sector has had to face up to these financial realities, too, but there was obvious room for improvement in the judicial system. Courts, by their nature and by design, operate by procedure. This is what keeps the legal system consistent, but it can also slow things down and require the state to spend money when it shouldn’t have to. This is where technology comes in. In the drive to get more done in less time and with less effort, technology has been the great catalyst, and nowhere is this truer than in the courtroom. The integration of A/V technology, particularly conferencing technology, has dramatically increased the speed and efficiency of various court proceedings. In doing so, local and state governments are saving their communities money and improving safety at the same time.
What technologies are getting use in the courtroom?Traditionally, everything a court had to do dealt with all relevant parties in the room. This, of course, was necessary before technology could make its impact. However, many of these procedures can be done remotely. Every jurisdiction is approaching the technology in its own way, but it appears that many of the procedures brought before a magistrate can be executed from a distance. Of particular note are inmate processing and pleas, as well as probable cause determinations. Following arrest, the inmate is arraigned, or brought before a magistrate or judge to hear the charges and to enter a plea. Bail is often set at this initial meeting, as well. Probable cause determinations are not as cut and dry, so they are initially handled before the official. However, subsequent requests can normally be managed remotely. What A/V technologies make this possible, and what are considerable benefits?
1. Remote conferencing reduces travel costs – The public sector is catching on to what private industries have acknowledged for years. Video conferencing products have advanced to the point where in-person meetings are rarely a must. In the corporate world, this fact can save a company tens of thousands of dollars every year on travel costs alone. In the judiciary system, where inmates are constantly streamed into the courtroom, considerable travel cost reduction is also possible. Inmates may not be transported over long distances to face a magistrate, but the sheer frequency of inmate processing will nickel and dime communities to an unacceptable degree.
2. Remote conferencing also improves safety – Using video conferencing for remote arraignment makes sense from a fiscal standpoint, but it also improves safety. Most inmates brought before a local magistrate are not violent, but again, with the sheer volume of inmate processing, it’s likely that there will be violent offenders marched into the courtroom frequently. Transporting violent inmates poses a risk to everyone involved, including other inmates, as they may attempt to escape or accost others.
Video conferencing can be set up so that the inmate is arraigned from a cell or from a secure room that is located in the same facility. This will remove any opportunities for the inmate to get violent with others. And though personal safety will always trump money, reducing injuries and violent incidents will also eliminate the costs associated with both.
3. Remote conferencing allows for faster decisions in the field – Some jurisdictions have gone as far as setting up video conferencing technology in police vehicles. Doing so allows police to converse with a magistrate face to face. Although it’s only being used in a handful of jurisdictions, some departments are using video conferencing in vehicles to attain warrants for probable cause. This allows police to adapt to changing conditions in the field and ensure they don’t lose a potential lead while traveling to the court and waiting for the magistrate.
4. Remote conferencing is ideal for witness testimony – It is difficult, sometimes impossible, to get a witness to appear in court. The witness may live too far away, they may not be available when needed, or they may wish to avoid the defendant entirely. Whatever the reason, video conferencing allows witnesses to enter testimony or provide deposition. The witness can be conferenced with live, or their deposition recorded for future use and analysis. Video conferencing is particularly helpful when handling expert witnesses, as they typically have limited availability. The ability to conference from their desk would mitigate this logistical challenge.
5. Displays and document cameras are perfect for evidence reviewing – Video conferencing is not the only A/V technology that has found its way into the courtroom. Quality digital displays and document cameras play an important role as well. When evidence is presented to the jury, use of a document camera and display will make it easy for everyone to view any fine details on the item. And for evidence exhibits that are too fragile to carry around, a document camera ensures the item is kept safe during viewing.
6. Better audio helps everyone hear better – Most court proceedings involve plenty of talking, and with obsolete, deteriorating audio systems in place, hearing the speaker can be difficult. Some courtrooms are still utilizing microphones and speaker systems that are decades old, so updates are needed. Modern microphones, better speaker positioning and better audio processing ensures no one needs to yell to be heard, and ensures people who are hard of hearing can still follow what is being said.A/V technology has many applications in the courtroom, each of which can save money, keep people safe or speed along court proceedings. As the technology develops and jurisdictions get accustomed to its presence, there will surely be more applications that make sense in the courtroom.