As a follow-up to several comments I recently received about my article, “Top 3 Technology System Concerns that Impact Courthouse Proceedings,” I thought that it might be helpful to focus on one way that technology is improving the functionality of courthouses: the use of videoconference hearing rooms for court proceedings.
Though videoconferencing is becoming more common in courtrooms, some courts are setting up smaller rooms (like hearing rooms) that are dedicated to videoconferencing. While it is not ideal for many proceedings, I am impressed by how such rooms are used in many courts for activities including conducting initial arraignments, pretrial conferences, motion hearings, remote testimony, and more.
From a courthouse planning standpoint, the cost of constructing and equipping a dedicated videoconference hearing room can be considerably less than the cost of constructing and equipping a full-size courtroom. Also, the smaller size of the room allows it to be conveniently located in areas that are proximate to holding cells and secured prisoner circulation routes. Additionally, the efficient and focused design of the videoconference hearing room generally makes the proceedings conducted therein more efficient, saving time in court proceedings.
Real Life Examples - Videoconference Hearing Rooms
Videoconferencing with a Defendant in Jail
Perhaps one of the most advantageous uses of the rooms is to conduct proceedings where the judge and the defendant are located in separate facilities. A videoconference room in a jail can be connected to a videoconference hearing room in a courthouse. In this way, the defendant does not need to be transported to the courthouse, which reduces the cost of transportation, cost/time of security personnel, and the security risks associated with moving defendants. In a Washington courthouse that I assessed, a videoconference hearing room was connected to restricted judge circulation patterns and shared by multiple judges. The judges would enter the room robed and sit at a formal desk and view a defendant in a remote jail over a large monitor. The judge would conduct quick proceedings and then exit the room so that it would be available for other judges. I was impressed with the efficient way in which the court utilized both the technology and the room.
Use of Videoconferencing in a Remote Courthouse
Earlier this year, I assessed a courthouse in Missouri where the court frequently uses a videoconference hearing room for arraignments when a judge is not available at a remote court location. In these instances, an individual who has been arrested is brought to the courthouse, booked, and held in the central cellblock. When it is time for the arraignment, the prisoner is escorted to the videoconference hearing room, which is adjacent to the cellblock. The presiding judge is seated at a judge’s bench in a technology-enhanced courtroom in a separate location while the defendant stands at the podium with counsel in the videoconference hearing rooms. This method of arraignment can reduce the amount of time it takes to arrange an initial appearance before a judge, since any judge in the jurisdiction can preside over the proceeding without having to travel to the location where the defendant is being held. It also produces a reduction in travel costs for the court by eliminating the need for judges and staff to travel extensively for very brief proceedings.
Videoconferencing in the Same Facility to Reduce Security Risks
Additionally, I worked in a North Carolina courthouse that was fitted with several small videoconference hearing rooms arranged so that law enforcement personnel could bring prisoners directly to the hearing rooms from the cellblock via secured circulation corridors. This layout was developed because the courthouse does not have an entirely separate and secure path of travel from the cellblock to any of the full size courtrooms. The presiding judge conducts the arraignment proceeding from chambers or from a courtroom that is also equipped with videoconferencing technology. The court has found that the use of these hearing rooms for initial appearances has substantially reduced the number of instances where potentially volatile prisoners could encounter the public or a judge while being escorted through unsecured corridors.
Learn about the layout and features of these useful videoconference hearing rooms in my next post.