Technological Frustrations and How to Mitigate Them: An Overview of Courtroom Technology
Since the late 1990s, courtroom professionals began to introduce innovative courtroom technology such as electronic files and computers. Beforehand, all evidence documentation and processing had to be completed physically, and physical filing systems were of the utmost importance.
As computers became more commonplace and widespread, prosecutors began to adopt this technology for their work. While the dawn of a new electronic era was exciting, it was still very new. Plus, the functionalities of software were extremely limited. In a 1999 article published by William & Mary Law School, author Frederic I. Lederer lamented that
“Unfortunately, each software package is unique, and none of the available options can be converted perfectly into another’s format. Accordingly, any electronic filing system must accommodate the differing formats. Even if this is done successfully, one must then cope with two critical complications: some documents that must be filed were not produced using a computer and must therefore be converted into an electronic image, and pro se litigants cannot be expected to file personally by computer.”
While Lederer’s article is over 20 years old at this point, many of the same issues he describes remain. Many modern record management systems (RMSs) that law enforcement agencies use do not directly send information to prosecutors and courtroom professionals. Additionally, many prosecutor case management systems (PCMSs) cannot directly communicate with defense parties, particularly during the discovery phase.
These communication gaps cost valuable time, in which LEOs and prosecutors must, at times, physically transport documents and materials. Often, these materials are transported through the means of thumb drives, CDs, and printed documents.
On top of this, technology advanced even more rapidly than usual during the pandemic, with some studies quoting seven years ahead of predictions. In an already-outdated field, such as software for prosecutors and law enforcement, how much further can existing technologies lag?
If other industries have advanced technologically, it is time for courtroom technology to get an upgrade, too. Before we dig into the different types of trial court technology, let’s discuss some frustrations prosecutors and courtroom professionals face in their day-to-day jobs that technology can help mitigate.
Current Technological Frustrations for Prosecutors and Courtroom Professionals
The National Institute of Justice explains that prosecutor retention is a pressing problem. Many prosecutors feel like their workload is increasing, particularly as the amount of data prosecutors need to analyze increases. At the same time, prosecutors feel that data exchange among agencies, their partners, and the community is lacking. This inadequate data exchange only heightens prosecutors’ existing frustrations. Updated technology alleviates some of these frustrations by saving prosecutors’ valuable time and energy, while also maximizing data exchange efficiency.
Now, let’s learn more about different types of technology in the courtroom today. We’ll also learn how specific types of these technologies can immediately benefit prosecutors and courtroom officials in their daily work.
Types of Technology in the Courtroom
In a 2014 article for Cornell Law School, Jessica Moyeda categorizes technology in the courtroom into five groups: Information Presentation, Remote Appearances, Court Record, Assistive Technology, and Jury Deliberations.
Now, let’s dive further into these types of trial court technology and learn more about the functionalities of each.
With modern technology, the way that prosecutors present information has drastically changed. While courtroom professionals may still opt for physical evidence, they now also have access to advanced tools to virtually display timelines, calendars, maps, charts, diagrams, animations, and more. Other tools include document cameras, computer whiteboards, and computer display systems.
Trial court technology of this nature allows for an interactive quality and can be highly engaging. For example, prosecutors can directly manipulate documents and materials to emphasize certain aspects through digital highlighting and zooming in. Although, Moyeda points out that courtroom professionals should be careful not to overuse these displays, as they could become distracting. In these scenarios, discretion is key.
While most of us are now well-acquainted with video conferencing in a post-COVID-19 world, many states have only recently allowed the use of videoconferencing for remote witness testimony. This is an invaluable tool that has continued to expand even after the initial constraints of the pandemic.
In some instances, such as civil courts, there have been enormous boosts in attendance from virtual hearings. This uptick in attendance is mainly attributed to reduced costs of coming to court, including transportation, lost wages, and travel time. While the court system is still analyzing this new data, it seems that remote appearances could certainly promote a wide range of benefits.
Simultaneously, reports show that virtual court hearings weren’t fully equitable in the sense that parties with lawyers seemed to benefit drastically more from those without legal representation. Alongside the lack of access to certain technologies, some barriers remain for low-income parties. This is something for the court system, and court professionals, to consider as the virtual courtroom landscape continues to develop.
Recent trial court technology has revolutionized court records. Digital Electronic Recording Systems allow for real-time transcription, which is provided by stenographic reporters. Other tools include automated recording devices, digital video, and images. These technologies make access to court records instantaneous, while also documenting the court from various multi-media perspectives.
Many courtroom officials, such as court clerks, can greatly benefit from Digitized Document Management and Discovery Tools like CivicEye’s CivicDocs. Clerks can instantly access research information needed from law enforcement officials and prosecutors alike. Additionally, clerks can instantly access large file formats, such as bodycam and dashcam footage, through CivicDoc’s secure cloud technology. On top of these features, clerks can easily manage billing, share files, and locate necessary research. CivicDocs’s digitized platform saves clerks’ time and allows them to perform their jobs securely and confidently.
CivicDocs is also a vital technology for prosecutors, particularly during the discovery process. Prosecutors can share files with defense teams and access audit logs that detail when and where documents were accessed, and whether they were downloaded or not. Additionally, each user accesses the platform through a unique, secure portal that allows users outside of the platform to access CivicDocs easily. CivicDocs also boasts features such as redaction, remote viewing, discovery tools, distribution tools, secure archiving, and cold-case document repositories.
As indicated by its name, “assistive technologies” are designed to assist those with special needs, such as people who are deaf, blind, or have mobility restrictions. This trial court technology is necessary for providing equitable and accessible materials. Some of these tools include: real-time transcription for those who are hearing-impaired, sign language or foreign language interpretation (via videoconferencing), and the reproduction of documents in braille for blind individuals.
Remote appearance trial court technology often works together with assistive technology because of videoconferencing tools, document reproduction, and other aspects. In many ways, remote appearances can function primarily as assistive technology, too.
While the jury deliberates, recent trial court technology has allowed jurors to revisit evidence presented during the trial. This type of display technology has been helpful in allowing jurors to efficiently analyze and compare evidence in a more organized fashion. Particularly, this is valuable in allowing jurors to review precise materials presented by the prosecution and defense, instead of relying on their own potentially faulty notes, memories, or perceptions of the information presented.
Post-Pandemic Technology in the Courtroom
During the COVID-19 pandemic, trial court technology was forced to shift due to social distancing and quarantining. In research published by Pew, the organization reports that courts adopted technology at unprecedented speed and scale. A particular example notes that courts were slow to embrace online document submissions before COVID-19.
During and after the pandemic, digital document submissions have increased. But many prosecutors and courtroom professionals still rely on outdated, antiquated software to share digital files.
Software like CivicCase, one of CivicEye’s platforms developed particularly for prosecutors and courtroom professionals, streamlines document-sharing and form validation, all through a secure, cloud-based network. Custom forms are converted into electronic representations, which consist of the presentation layer, the part you see, and the data layer. Complex forms can easily become interactive, and the software provides pixel-perfect form rendering to match originals. Additionally, CivicCase allows each party to access information and forms through a custom portal. This gives individuals appropriate tasks and access—increasing organization, ease of use, and efficiency.
Other Case Management Tools for Prosecutors and Courtroom Professionals
While there are many unique tools for courtroom professionals, such as this blog post-round-up on digital tools for District Attorneys, many case management software programs do not reliably communicate with law enforcement agencies’ record management systems (RMSs). Additionally, while some case management tools will collect materials, they do not provide sophisticated chain of evidence preservation or successfully store large files, such as body cam footage.
CivicEye’s tools for courtroom professionals and prosecutors, CivicDocs and CivicCase, offer a variety of features that seamlessly integrate with existing RMSs, like CivicRMS.
Get in touch with us today if you are interested in learning more about how CivicEye can revolutionize your public safety agency.
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