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Video Conferencing Goes to Court

Government September 15, 2015

At its core, business communication is largely about connecting related groups, resulting in shared ideas and collaboration, and ultimately improved business practices and success.Videoconferencing is one technology that has successfully translated these goals into a reality. It has not only proved its worth in corporate boardrooms, but now, video conferencing can add the law to the list of areas where it’s having a huge impact. Videoconferencing technology efficiently and easily connects judges, defendants, interpreters, and law enforcement officers, and implements effective communication between them through high-definition video display and excellent audio quality.

According to a press release by the Supreme Court Justice of Michigan, video conferencing has also had a positive impact on their bottom line. By implementing video conferencing, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) saved nearly five million dollars of state revenue by cutting down on inmate transportation (previously needed so they can attend court hearings and other proceedings.) In fact, the impact is so positive that over four hundred courts have adopted this technology, a huge jump from the original 17 that were a part of the program’s launch in 2010. Let's explore a little deeper, and looks at what’s making video conferencing stand out as the preferred technology for the courts and law enforcement.

Decreased Costs and Increased Access to Courts

As mentioned above with Michigan’s impressive example, video conferencing has a direct and positive effect on the overall cost of courtroom proceedings. With this technology, inmates do not need to be physically in the courtroom to participate. Therefore, there are huge savings related to not only transportation, but also for escorts for inmates, and other related expenses. Additionally, inmates do not need to wait for an escort and an appropriate time to raise their complaints in a court of law, which provide them with easier access to help or guidance, especially important when trying to launch an appeal.

In fact, video conferencing gives complainants a variety of options to choose from, when looking to settle disputes. The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) method, for example, provides for out of court settlement options. Through this method, the disputing parties have full control over the process and resolution.  Through methods like ADR, video conferencing helps to make the court system affordable, adaptive, and accessible to everybody.

Faster Access to Enforcement Measures

In most U.S. states, enforcement measures, such as issuing search warrants, require a face-to-face interaction with a judge. This leads to unnecessary delays if a judge is not available or the courts are closed. However, video conferencing eliminates such delays. Enforcement officers can now engage in face-to-face interaction with a judge using mobile devices, and obtain the necessary pledge required to issue a warrant. This expedites investigations at no additional cost to the state.

And just as with business, video conferencing for legal purposes breaks down geographical barriers. The technology makes it possible for foreign witnesses to testify in criminal cases without requiring them to travel. There is a statute in U.S. law that does not allow foreign witnesses to be forced to physically testify in court. However, this technology helps bypass this statute, by making it easy for said witness to simply “be on camera,” rather than traveling to the U.S.

Enhanced Security

As defendants no longer need transportation from jail to the courthouse, security risks are substantially minimized. This is particularly convenient in multi-defendant case involving a group of prisoners. Depending on the nature of the case, their physical presence in the courtroom may be dangerous for their escorts and the general public. Moreover, security personnel can now attend more important public safety activities instead of escorting inmates to and from courtrooms.

Limitations and Challenges

Unfortunately, certain fundamental constitutional issues limit the full implementation of video conferencing technology in courtrooms. According to the sixth amendment of the U.S. constitution, defendants have the constitutional right to face their accuser. Therefore, it would be illegal to use video conferencing for testimonies from the prosecution’s witnesses. However, this technology can streamline better pretrial proceedings and the questioning defense witnesses.

Video conferencing is rapidly changing our justice system. By cutting costs, law enforcement officials can focus on more pressing community issues, and the system also benefits from improved alternative conflict resolution methods.

There’s no doubt that these next few years will see video conferencing making a lasting impact in courthouses across the country.

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