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The Courts Government News Technology

Order in the e-Court! 286

theodp writes "Every word spoken in the e-Courtroom where Branden Basham is on trial for his life appears immediately before the judge on a computer screen. There's a flat-screen monitor between every two seats in the jury box, a witness-box monitor with touch-screen features, and large-screen monitors for public viewing. Lawyers say e-Courtrooms help reduce trial time by making evidence display and tracking documents more efficient. 'It made the Chadrick Fulks' case three to five days shorter,' said an Assistant U.S. Attorney, referring to Basham's co-defendant, who plead guilty and was sentenced to death."
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Order in the e-Court!

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  • Hm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FLAGGR ( 800770 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:37PM (#10313808)
    I don't know if I should laugh, be sick, "tsk tsk" the story, or contemplate why the hell we really exist.
  • death? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:39PM (#10313834)
    His accomplise pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, the article says. I always thought that the whole point of a guilty plea was to lower the severity of the maximum sentence.
  • WHAT???? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:40PM (#10313836) Homepage Journal
    referring to Basham's co-defendant, who plead guilty and was sentenced to death

    Seriously, what's wrong with this guy? Why would he plead guilty without some type of consideration?

    If I'm facing the death penalty, I'd at least take my chances with a trial. There's no point in pleading guilty KNOWING that the state is seeking execution.

  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:43PM (#10313869)
    You make it sound like the technology described in the article is a bad thing. But the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the Constitution [cornell.edu], and giving juries a greater level of effectiveness in their ability to review evidence can only be an improvement.

  • by rackirlen ( 749169 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:43PM (#10313870) Homepage
    I really don't think I want to be judged on the skill of my lawer in photoshop and powerpoint...

    Seriously, powerpoint is one of the things that NASA reports have blamed for the lack of attention to some details... I really think that the old, hash though paper way keeps the legal system more secure from tampering... (as much as it can be anyhow)
  • by Hobobo ( 231526 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:43PM (#10313872)
    I don't see anyone would be up in arms about this. Keeping track of evidence and testimonies, paying attention is difficult, to say the least, for individuals with no legal training. A method of keeping track of evidence to help juries make reasoned decisions will lead to more fair trials. Additionally, resolving issues faster is in the interests of everyone involved: the defendant, the plaintiff, and the jury. The only ones who lose are lawyers who charge by the hour!
  • Big deal... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:51PM (#10313957)
    A trial is becoming a more rare occurance in U.S. District courts. Most judges now use summary judgments to knock out cases before they even get to trial. It's easier, cheaper, and clears the dockets faster. Most cases are won in pre-trial motions where technology doesn't really matter.

    An aside: in the rare event a case does make it to trial, the new technology doesn't change the fact that all a trial is is just two conflicting stories of the same event. The lawyer who can tell the story better, with more passion and zeal, who really, truly believes in their client's cause will always win over PowerPoint, guaranteed.
  • by Thunderstruck ( 210399 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:52PM (#10313965)
    Technology in the courtroom is great up to the point where we are called to function without it, and find we are unable to do so. For example, imagine tryng a murder or rape case without the use of DNA evidence. The defendant may have confessed, and performed the act in front of a nun and two priests... but the jury expects expensive DNA testing, and you cannot get a convition without it.

    Likewise with courtroom technology - When lawyers and jurors are over-used to the presence of touch screens and video equipment, what will they do when called to a courtroom in rural South Dakota that has barely the budget to keep the furnace running?

    Also consider that, where human beings are doing the work, someone is ultimately responsible for a mistake. Court reporters and Notary Publics post bonds and can loos big money if they make a mistake. When is the last time your software vendor assumed liability for a computer crash?
  • Re:WHAT???? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by That's Unpossible! ( 722232 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:52PM (#10313966)
    What if you murdered someone and believe you should face the ultimate penalty for it?
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:06PM (#10314088) Homepage
    It's not just time and expense, the assumption (legal fiction though it usually is) is that if you plead guilty you're taking responsibility for your actions, and therefore have already begun the rehabilitation process.

    What I didn't get is how the guy in the story got death if he pleaded, but I forced myself to read the article and discovered, surprise, surprise, the story didn't get it completely right. The other guy had pled guilty to carjacking and kidnapping, but had insisted that he hadn't killed the girl.
  • Re:WHAT???? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:07PM (#10314106)
    Then he is obviously insane and hence should be transfered to a mental institude rather than recieve the death penalty.
  • Good Lord! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zerocool^ ( 112121 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:16PM (#10314157) Homepage Journal
    Plead guilty and was sentanced to death?!?

    I dunno, I tend to be very anti-death-penalty. But, when someone comes into the court room and tries to get off on a technicality, or convince the jury to reduce the charge to manslaughter, or whatnot, I think we'd be more likely to hand out a death sentance.

    When someone walks in and is like, "Yes, I admit I did it", how does that work? Thank you for saving the taxpayers lots of money by not going through a trial, and thank you for being upfront and honest about your crime; now, die!

    It's not punishment, it's prevention, right?

  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:43PM (#10314396) Journal
    I was on a jury
    Biggest waste of three days in my life) a few years ago,
    If you think that administering Justice is a waste of time, perhaps you do not deserve Justice.
  • Re:MOD PARENT DOWN (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SlayerofGods ( 682938 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:29PM (#10314737)
    It gives the prosecution a chance to put a lot of doubt in the mind of the jury.
    The prosecution needs to remove the doubt from the jury; it's the defense that wants to create it.
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:31PM (#10314754) Journal
    You've watched wayy too much Star Trek. The Death Penalty is neither 'primitive' nor 'barbaric'. It is, in fact, the honest response to the fact that sometimes people can do things for which there is no recompense and after which that person can never again be trusted to act as a human being. The Death Penalty isn't primarily a 'deterrent', it isn't a 'punishment', it's the best means of insuring that a person who has utterly broken from civilization and proven so through his actions can never again harm an innocent person.
    The death penalty is both. First by being irreversible, and second by implementing what most primitive societies have had for justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
    What is the purpose of Justice but to insure that no one gets wronged? Killing a killer will not bring back the victims, nor it will make restitution to the victims' families. Justice is best served when the least number of people get harmed in any way.
    What can you say of a society that pretends there is 'some good in all of us', or that evil people deserve 'mercy'? Or worse yet, that there is no such thing as 'good' or 'evil'? Is that 'advanced'? Is that 'enlightened'?
    Indeed they are. But one cannot explain those concepts to a primitive mind any more than one can explain music to a deaf or colour to a blind.
    The idea that only a 'primitive' society could still have the Death Penalty is bizarre, bordering on the contemptibly stupid.
    Well, perhaps it is a concept a bit more advanced than what your brain can handle...
    In other words, I'm sure it's all the rage on college campuses.
    Truly spoken like an Ozarks uneducated redneck. How's your coon dog? Doggone? Well, you ain't playin' possum, boy! And when are you gonna fix that '67 Chevy, the one that's closest to your trailer, chickenboner [chickenboner.com]?
  • Re:I know.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Peyna ( 14792 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:31PM (#10314757) Homepage
    the right to a fair and speedy trial

    I don't think "fair" is ever mentioned, but many faculties are given that could help to make the trial "fair":

    "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense." U.S. Const. amend. VI.
  • Re:WHAT???? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hunterx11 ( 778171 ) <.hunterx11. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:33PM (#10314771) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but in the profound reasoning that is Christianity, suicide is worse than murder since you can atone for murder after the fact, but not suicide.
  • Re:My job (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:56PM (#10314912)
    Using the rule of thumb that all technology will be exploited to the max for evil purposes, it could get even worse than this.

    It is likely that the screens will eventually get used to show graphics to support the prosecution's case: "I put it to you that Joe Sixpack took a knife and stabbed Fed six times" becomes an dramatised computer generated video showing a person, recognisably Joe, taking a knife and stabbing Fred - all with nice sound effects etc.

    I suggest that the noble citizens that fill jury benches will be heavily swayed by images like these and will really struggle to tell the difference between something like this and true video evidence.

  • by Jardine ( 398197 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @10:58PM (#10315631) Homepage
    *Sigh* When will the death penalty ever be abandoned in the few remaining countries that still have it?

    Who said I was for the death penalty? The last execution in my country was in 1962. It was removed from civilian law in 1976 and from military law in 1998. I think it's a pointless form of punishment, does nothing to deter crimes, and has resulted in too many innocent people being executed.

    And IMHO, there's nothing honourable in throwing away something that you don't own; that's why suicide is a crime in many countries.

    You don't own your own life? Why should others be allowed to decide when my life ends? I didn't really explain my point very well. If you know you killed someone else and have a choice between killing yourself and going through trial, killing yourself saves the family of the victim the grief of going through trial, saves the state from spending resources on the trial, and saves the executioner from having to live with himself. The goal is to lessen the amount of suffering for everyone involved.

    Just my take on it.
  • Re:phoning it in (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @10:58PM (#10315637) Homepage Journal
    Nice paranoia, really, and good use of the word "gestalt," but when evidence moves from "over there on that table" to "right in front of my face," I am able to make a more informed decision as a juror.

    When I don't have to wait a half hour while a bailiff goes to get the murder weapon because I can view it in 3d without disturbing the evidence, I'm making the trial move more fluidly.

    When I can replay the witness' testimony, instead of merely remembering it, and I can detect that moment of hesitation that Juror 5 notices and I didn't on the replay, I might change my mind.

    This technology opens WAY more doors than it closes. And you're complaining because of the colour balance? Man, last time I was on a jury one woman was near blind and another guy barely spoke English...if technology can bring them a little more information in any respect, it would be unconscionable NOT to use it. Shit, I'm sorry it's not some 3d cube with fractal resolution, but getting this out NOW, so people can use it NOW, is way more important than arguing about poor framing of the shot that you'd otherwise never see.

    Oh, and this is technology to AUGMENT -- not REPLACE -- real live testimonies. It's so you don't have to rely on 12 hazy memories when the witness blinks three times and swallows before lying. You still see the live action deposition...and then you get instant replay for that second you were yawning.
  • by kaiidth ( 104315 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @03:40AM (#10316719)
    That's not actually an entirely new idea in the UK. A mate of mine had a car accident last spring, to which the police was called as they were on private land. At the time of course the police reacted with sublime disinterest (so what else is new, I've seen them react with utter disinterest to armed theft before now), but as they're stressing the 'Better Driving' thing at the moment, he got a letter through the door a couple of weeks later saying, "Either admit your guilt and pay us 200 quid, or we'll take you to court, where the fines could reach 5,000". Obviously no sane being is going to go with the court case option, even if they were in posession of video evidence and ten witnesses... it just isn't worth it.

    I see this sort of practice as cheapening the idea of justice, since it practically commands you to plead guilty and take your (potentially unjustly given) lumps, and to hell with any of that truth bollocks. Plus, it's politically excellent since more people will plead guilty, thus increasing the apparent success of the justice system. And you don't have a right to a free lawyer just because the Crown is threatening to prosecute, which means that if you're a bit strapped for cash you have to decide all on your little own. Sigh.

    The UK desperately needs a bit more backbone, a bit of basic ethics, a bit less obsessiveness on the "ooh! scary nasty criminals are all around!" front, and a change of political direction; this political grandstanding stuff is just not doing it for me, quite frankly. I'm quite aware that criminals exist - I spent the tech recession working in a booze shop so I could hardly fail to have noticed - but I'm also aware that most of the adult criminals I've come across were pretty good pals of the local cops, that the police have no ability whatsoever to control teenage offenders, and that successful prosecution generally only occurs on the most inoffensive of targets. "Innocent men have nothing to fear" could also be stated as "Innocent men have everything to lose, and are therefore that much more frightened". Unfortunately.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @05:40AM (#10317040)
    The point is - justice system is far from administering justice. It's a set of rules in which whole truth is not an object of pursuit. Instead roles are clearly separated betwen prosecution, defense and judge. If your layer sucks then there's little justice for you even though judge knows and prosecutor knows that your lawyer is letting you down - they are prohibited from doing anything about it by rules of the game.

    And without a lot of money you can't afford a good lawyer. So for many justice is blind.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard