Modern court technology saves costs, protects safety, accelerates administration of justice

At a Glance

  • Faster access to judicial system
  • Savings in travel costs
  • Increase in public safety

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Courtroom technology test lab shows promise for remote ‘everything’

Modern court technology saves costs, protects safety, accelerates administration of justice

In this courtroom, you won’t see evidence mounted on foamcore boards or hear papers shuffling as jurors pass around documents. Instead, you’ll see video display monitors or tablets presenting digital evidence and video images of witnesses and interpreters, as lifelike as if they are physically present. The McGlothlin Courtroom, the hub of William & Mary Law School’s Center of Legal and Court Technology (CLCT), is the most technologically-advanced trial and appellate courtroom in the world. Prominent technology products, including Polycom, are used to test and demonstrate how courtroom technology can advance the judicial system.

“Our goal is to show lawyers, judges, court administrators, technologists—almost anyone—what can be done with modern technology to improve the administration of justice throughout the world. Here, Polycom is a very important way in which we can do remote everything. In our world, this is a way of eliminating distance,” says Chancellor Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Legal and Court Technology, Fredric I. Lederer.

Remote everything                                                                          
A lot of moving parts, and a lot of players, are required to make trials, hearings, and proceedings happen. Limited availability of the human participants, plus big caseloads, can cause long delays in legal proceedings. Scheduling inefficiencies—trying to gather everyone physically in a courtroom together at one time—have long plagued the court systems

CLCT is showing how unified collaborative communications (UCC)—integrated communications solutions that include video, audio, recording, streaming, content sharing and collaboration—enable  remote appearances for trial judges, appellate judges, witnesses, jurors, lawyers, interpreters, and even court reporters.

In 2015, CLCT conducted an experimental stock fraud case trial that used videoconferencing to allow a juror to participate when the juror could not physically attend due to disability. That was the first time a remote juror scenario has been tested and has broad implications for jurors who require ADA accommodation or other health concerns.

Polycom Group Series 700, the engine that drives video, voice, and collaboration experiences, is one of the McGlothlin Courtroom technologies playing a major part in making the leap from this test lab to real-world settings.

And in real-world settings, video conferencing technology has paid dividends in terms of convenience, speed, safety, and money. In the courts of British Columbia it is commonplace for court administrators to patch an individual through to a judge in a different part of the province if a local judge is unavailable. In a large area sometimes faced with travel difficulties, the BC provincial legal system regularly defies distance via video conferencing technology.

Saving taxpayer dollars                                                           
Using video conferencing technology in the judicial system brings substantial financial value. For instance, in the area of first appearances in criminal cases Michigan court administrators are realizing major cost savings while improving the delivery of justice. By eliminating the $1,800 in costs to transport a prisoner to a 15-minute procedural hearing, Michigan Department of Corrections has saved $3 million on physical transports alone. The department also avoids transportation costs by allowing immigration and Social Security Administration hearings to be conducted via Polycom video conferencing. Michigan State Police Forensic Science division uses video conferencing for toxicologists to testify in criminal cases without traveling to the courtroom.

In Los Angeles County, when inmate family members’ in-person visitation sessions were replaced with video visitation, 2,500 video chats led to $3.7 million in time and cost savings per month in 2012. And the Pennsylvania Court System is saving $21 million annually by using video conferencing technology to conduct remote first appearances, preliminary arraignments and other court proceedings.

Protecting public safety                                                                    
Previously, when an individual was considered a safety risk and had to appear in court for a short proceeding such as a first appearance, administrators had no choice but to use expensive resources such as additional security personnel to transport the individual to and from the courthouse. During transport, violent criminals may injure officers or other inmates or escape custody, posing a threat to the public.

With Polycom’s VideoProtect 500, inmates can be granted interactive face-to-face communication with the judge, or his or her attorney, without leaving the detention facility. “In criminal cases, we have remote first appearance or even arraignment where the judge is in one place and the individual is in a detention facility elsewhere. We have a huge savings where we don’t have to bring individuals who’ve been arrested to the courthouse, which includes security issues, safety issues, and huge costs for overtime and transportation. More importantly, the individual gets their rights far more quickly than if we had to wait,” Lederer states.

Courtroom of the future
Lederer and his colleagues have worked for decades researching and evaluating the most innovative technologies to be used to create the courtrooms of the future. Their work has become increasingly more critical as today’s younger litigators and juries—who are accustomed to instant digital communication with apps like FaceTime and Skype—simply expect remote options. “We are impressed with Polycom and are looking forward to testing it under even more demanding circumstances as we push the boundaries ever forward, ” Lederer says.

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