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Courtroom Technology

by Keith Fentress / August 7, 2014

Courtroom technology has been a growing topic for the past two decades. The technology used by courts can vary widely. Some courts define technology as a projection screen in the well area with a projector on a mobile cart. Other courts use advanced evidence presentation systems with display monitors for the judge, jury members, witness, courtroom staff, counsel, and spectators.

Introducing technology without distracting participants or blocking sightlines within the courtroom is a common challenge. Technology should be considered as a feature in the design of a courtroom. When courtroom technology is accommodated after the fact, it often results in a nest of cables running across floors and over furniture.

It is common to see the backs of computer monitors that protrude above the judge’s bench or the lectern. Additionally, there is often no ideal place to erect a screen to show visuals – anywhere the screen is placed sacrifices the vision of one or more courtroom participants. Selecting the right technology and planning for it during the design or renovation of the courtroom can result in tasteful furniture and fixtures that house screens and other equipment to keep the technology from being too obtrusive in the courtroom.

A courtroom's audio, video, communications, and data transmission components comprise the courtroom technology system. Optimally performing courtroom technology systems tremendously enhances the potential for presenting evidence in the courtroom and improving the efficiency of trial proceedings.

In the past, renovating a courtroom to receive an upgraded technology system posed challenges to space availability for installing relatively bulky components in locations such as the jury box. Today, the sophisticated flat-screen displays and other compact system components on the market can be added to an existing courtroom with relative ease and in a manner sensitive to architectural and historic preservation considerations.

Still, remember that the audio speakers and recording devices, video screens and cameras, computers, and other electronic components must be positioned appropriately and coordinated relative to trial participants, as well as the architectural and furniture features in the courtroom, to function optimally for trial proceedings.

Courtroom Technology and Historic Courthouses

An excellent example of combined sensitivity to the preservation, concern for compatibility with existing architecture, and the need to enhance trial proceedings is the historicCourtroom Technology - Fentress Incorporated Iowa courtroom is shown in the accompanying photograph. For this courtroom, the court desired a larger display for the jurors than might be provided by the use of individual video screens at each juror’s chair or a single wall-mounted video screen. Since the wall across from the jury box had no windows, a high-intensity projector was placed in a recessed box.

To avoid the large screen impacting the character of the courtroom, a floor-mounted enclosure having the appearance of a thickened rail for a spectator area was constructed opposite the jury box. The projection screen could then be raised from the enclosure as required and expanded to its full 9’x10’ dimensions in an umbrella-like manner.

By contrast, because today’s flat screen displays can be added to an existing courtroom with relative ease, they can be overused, resulting in a confusing, poorly coordinated, or overly complicated courtroom technology system that is a sub-optimal enhancement or even a distraction to the proceedings. For this reason, it is increasingly important that a technology system renovation plan considers the performance of the technology system components and how they will fit into the trial process.

Our next courtroom blog will focus on the issue of sustainability.


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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include change management, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys adventure travel and outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.