By Michael Grohs, Contributing Editor
Court technology and audio/visual presentation has reached nearly sci-fi standards. Inmates can be arraigned from jail. Witnesses can testify from almost anywhere with an Internet connection. Evidence can be displayed not only on high definition screens but in 3D holograms. Even in 1992’s My Cousin Vinnie, which was a mere 25 years ago, Joe Pesci’s character has to walk out of the courtroom to use a payphone to access evidence crucial to the case. Now the entire caseload would be in his phone. Most likely, few people at the time predicted that evolution.
In July 2017, information powerhouse Thomson Reuters released a White Paper called The Future of the Courts in which they examined what courts will look like in 20 years. Considering how far technology has advanced in the past 25 years, the next 20 might seem nearly incalculable. After seeking insight from in the U.S. and abroad, “We were struck both by the variety of progress we saw in modernization, and by the commonality of themes. Across this broad geographic spread, the same questions concern the judge, the court clerk and the legal professional.” They forecast converging trends and opportunities in “digitization, virtualization, and the challenges of a data-driven world.” Most of all, they see “increasing demands on people: tomorrow’s judges and their colleagues in the administration of justice will need a new approach to strategy, more empowered decision-making in the new digital world, and most of all the adaptability and agility to lead a court system that keeps pace with the rapidly changing demands of society.” The opportunities seem endless. There are also concerns. Potential challenges in the evolving technological ecosystem include budget constraints, performance expectations, the need for expediency, the fact that one size does not fit all, and an evolving society and legislature.
Where AV Fits Into the Picture of the Future
Part of that future will involve AV technology. This field alone comes with it considerations such as compatibility, technological evolution, and even placement in the courtroom. As Ted Brooks of Litigation-Tech, LLC, a San Francisco- and Los Angeles-based company that assists courts in upgrading and adopting technology points out, “A 60-inch screen may look massive in a living room, but in a courtroom it’s a postage stamp.”
James R. Holland, II, Esquire told Mike Smith, Court Technology Officer 4th Judicial Circuit, Florida, "You cannot turn on a television or computer without being fully aware that we are squarely in the digital age. Audiences require information conveyed quickly, clearly and vividly. Today's jurors have the same expectations. The current and evolving SMART boards and supporting systems in the Duval County Courthouse meet these modern expectations. Whether it’s computer animations, DVD, or going full on whiteboard and annotating on a high definition screen, a lawyer has at his or her disposal every conceivable communication tool. Best of all the courthouse staff is willing to pre-train in the technology in simple terms that will accommodate even the most technologically impaired."
More technology means more things to consider. Says Smith, their AV system incorporates 24-inch monitors located throughout the courtrooms. Several are located in the jury rail, and they are also present on the attorney tables, witness stand, for the court reporter and on the bench. The carts and Smart boards are options for the attorneys. The same technology used to hear the evidence is also used for the ADA headsets. “Budget savings can be realized by using one system to accommodate several needs.”
Transcripts remain a mainstay in most courtrooms, but as courts evolve, so do the methods of capturing proceedings. The Kentucky Court of Justice does not. Since 1999, their court records have been recorded using AV. Utah followed suit in 2009. Among those companies that provide such AV solutions is Louisville, Ky.-based JAVS. The JAVS P412 audio processor features 12 input and output channels that are fully configurable and can be routed to suit a court’s space requirements or recording needs. The dual USB connections allow courts to have a controlling computer and a hardware recorder hooked up simultaneously, so they will have full control over the system and never miss a minute of recording time. This versatile audio processor can be utilized with any ASIO-based recording software, but when paired with the NoteWise software, each input channel is visualized and tracked, so users can see exactly which microphones are active and recording at any time. For courts that utilize teleconferencing, the P412 is equipped with capabilities that eliminate participants hearing their own voices as feedback through the system. Now courts can have a professional quality sound and recording system with the ability to integrate programs such as Skype, WebEx, and Google Hangouts.
Naturally evidence presentation is evolving as well. JAVS also offers the Evidence Presentation System, which houses all the tools necessary to present physical and digital media throughout the courtroom from one centralized station. Digital evidence is easily displayed via a laptop or desktop connection making it a true plug-and-play experience. A high-resolution camera allows users to zoom in on the finest details and project what they are seeing to the entire courtroom. Users can display to projectors, flat screen monitors, and more from a variety of third-party devices, including portable media devices, DVD players, body cams, etc. Users can then annotate those images on-screen with the system’s touchscreen capabilities. Everything displayed on the system can be routed to digital recording hardware to preserve a record.
Texas-based Visionality is an integrator of AV products and skilled in designing new technology in courtroom settings. They have installed document cameras in numerous courtrooms, which allow evidence such as documents and other objects to be shown to the court with annotator devices that allow counsel, the judge, or the witness to electronically write on the displayed evidence. This can all be displayed on flat panels or even lampless projectors, while allowing the judge to maintain the ultimate control over what is seen by the jury. “There is a lot of new technology out there, and our job is to integrate that technology into the courtroom.”
WolfVision’s Cynap system is an excellent evidence presentation system for today’s high-tech courtroom. With multi-tiered display options, court technologists can better tailor designs to their specific courtroom setups and infrastructures. Displaying evidence from any device is seamless with comprehensive support for Chromecast, Miracast, and Airplay. The user-friendly interface enables attorneys to display evidence in full screen or side-by-side, as well as annotation over that evidence, if allowed. If there is a need to capture or record introduced and approved evidence, Cynap can easily fulfill that requirement. In the modern world of today’s trials, court systems need a solution that can readily adapt to the ever-changing demands of implementing and accessing technology. Cynap gives users that capability, and makes for a great future-proof solution for judges, attorneys, and court staff alike.
It is not just the electronics that is crucial to successful AV implementation. Spectrum offers a number of AV-ready lecterns and podiums perfect for the technology rich courtroom. Spectrum has taken their top lectern, the Media Manager Lectern, and created a complete line that offers optimal AV equipment handling space, 15 standard cutouts that support the most popular technology from major suppliers, and a variety of sizes to meet a courtroom’s needs.
Technology is an unpredictable arena. The Thomson Reuter’s paper “is unreservedly focused on technology and information.” They are aware, though, that predicting the future is rare, especially when it comes to technology, which is unpredictable in evolution and impact. “Courts must develop the infrastructure to store, retrieve and display both these and emerging data formats among the deluge of structured and unstructured information that forms an ever greater adjunct to their activities.” There will be challenges, though; for example, the eternal consideration of cost as well as a tradition of underfunding has left many courts lacking the technological infrastructure to support the possibilities. What seems certain though is an attorney will not soon likely leave the courtroom to use a payphone. CT