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November 22, 2010

"Courts videoconference defendants to save money"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting piece from today's USA Today.  Here are excerpts:

Everyone is entitled to his or her day in court, but a growing number of people get it without setting foot in a courtroom.  Courts across the country are embracing videoconferencing as a way for defendants to appear before a judge without leaving prison or jail, according to a recent survey by the National Center for State Courts.

As state and local governments continue to see their budgets squeezed, they are increasingly looking for ways to save money through technology, says Kannan Sreedhar, managing director of Verizon Connected Healthcare Solutions.  When his company demonstrated its Telejustice products at a meeting of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials in Houston in August, he says, he was stunned by the level of interest. "We were inundated with people who wanted to talk to us," Sreedhar says.

Sreedhar says the newer technology is based on Internet protocols offering higher resolution than previous generations, and it's easier to operate.  The newest wave: mobile video units that can be used in hospital rooms, mental health facilities and other venues to arraign people too sick to appear in court....

When the National Center for State Courts surveyed court systems in September, 100 of the 162 that responded were already using videoconferencing for some criminal matters, according to the study results published on the center's website.

Pennsylvania estimates it has saved $31 million, and Utah courts have reduced their transportation costs by one-third, according to the survey.  The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services began using videoconferencing earlier this year for inmates who appeal grievance hearings to a circuit court.  "We really think it's going to be a tremendous public-safety improvement and considerable cost savings," says spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

The criminal-justice section of the American Bar Association hasn't taken a formal position on videoconferencing for hearings such as arraignments but discourages it in trials, says spokeswoman Stephanie Ortbals-Tibbs.

As I have stated in a number of prior posts on related technological developments, the question is not whether new technologies with significantly change our criminal justice system, but rather when and how and by how much.

A few posts covering various tech issues:

November 22, 2010 at 11:14 AM | Permalink


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I would expect any state that routinely uses video conferencing for actual trials, even for parts of trials such as voir dire is just asking for trouble. Even hearings like arraignment I could see a serious argument that not being physically present harms the defendant's substantive rights. Sure, it may be less expensive the first time round but you're risking having to do it all over again when you are told the defendant has to be physically present.

I forget if it was here or at Volokh but I recall a post about video conferencing being tried for some of the few federal prisoners still eligible for parole and the court striking (correctly IMO) that use.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 22, 2010 2:01:48 PM

Is there a separate private (secure) line for attorney-client communications? Even then, this is not the same as face-to-face communication, especially with a difficult/impaired client, but this would seem to be the bare minimum necessary.

Posted by: NC Atty | Nov 24, 2010 10:36:02 AM

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