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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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  • Lawyers love this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eander315 ( 448340 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:36PM (#10313803)
    I wonder what they'll have to start charging to make up for the loss in billable hours?
  • My job (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:38PM (#10313818)

    I work for CVision (the closed circuit IP based system used in the article). Frankly, this type of technology has to be stopped. When we're testing the systems in new installations we're ordered to cut back on the gamma and hike up the contrast for the cameras that focus on the defendant.

    The reason? To make the defendant more menacing.

    Cameras focused at the witness stand are lightened up and softened somewhat to make the witness appear more likeable. It's a total joke, fortunately my contract ends in just shy of 3 months.

    Technology is fine, but this is an outright abuse.
  • 3 to 5 days? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by nbert ( 785663 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:41PM (#10313843) Homepage Journal
    so it basically would have taken at least 3 days to look at the evidence in a conventional manner? Maybe I'm really missing something here, but this sounds like hype to me.
  • Re:Lawyers love this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by masoncooper ( 443243 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:41PM (#10313851)
    There's no loss. Entering the evidence into the trial presentation software takes time too. But usually this is carried out by legal assistants. Our firm uses a product called Visionary that allows us to lay out all sorts of evidence and recall it at a moments notice to present on the secondary display. The cool part is that the software is free, they make their money through processing video. When a deposition comes in, you can request a tape from the court reporting service and then send it to them, they will then encode the entire thing and sync the transcript with the video. The result is the ability to highlight a paragraph or even a sentence in the depo and press play, the secondary display then shows the playback of the person actually saying that. Seeing someone say something has a MUCH greater effect on the judge or jury than simply quoting them.
  • Re:My job (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TykeClone ( 668449 ) <> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:42PM (#10313854) Homepage Journal
    Who's asking you to do that?

    Is it any worse than having the defendant show up with freshly cut hair, a clean shaved face, and in a suit?

    Does the jury ever actually see the defendant sitting there (live - not on TV)?

  • by Ayaress ( 662020 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:42PM (#10313863) Journal
    It doesn't sound very brillian to me. We already have a court reporter typing every word said in the trial into a computer shorthand. It's really the next logical step to wire that computer into monitors everybody can see.

    I was on a jury (case of four teenagers breaking ~1000 mailboxes in four counties along the Dixe/Dort Highway. Biggest waste of three days in my life) a few years ago, and you'd be suprised how many times the proceedings had to be inturrupted because a lawyer, the judge, or the jury couldn't hear what was being said clearly. Every time, the court reporter had to stand up and read the last few things that were said. This would sometimes happen two to three times an hour.
  • phoning it in (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:02PM (#10314053) Homepage Journal
    "Confronting your accuser" and "facing a jury of your peers" works both ways. Human communication is extremely high bandwidth, a gestalt of not only extremely high resolution sights and sounds, but also smells, odd as that might be to consider. In-person communications don't have the distracting "grids" that communications technologies impose on the experience, or other distracting problems like color curves and transmission glitches. Then there's the selection of subject of the communications: you have to look at the cropped content the recorder sends you, not at the subject's twitching foot, or your neighbor's incredulous face. And rather than face a camera to compose your message, you face another person, who's facing you.

    People are not nearly sophisticated enought to ignore the noise introduced by these technologies, and to notice the edited experiences they ignore. Does "can you hear me now?" mean anything to anyone? We can barely use these technologies in a cooperative conference call, with little more than "where should we meet for lunch?" on the line. It's unconscionable that people's lives are on the line with these technologies in the mix.
  • Theatrics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:06PM (#10314091)
    I've thought for a long time that the entire case should be recorded and then shown to a jury. Both sides can present their best cases and nobody can get away with theatrics.

    Atty 1: "So has your buggering of small animals caused harm to your eyesight making you an unfit witness?"

    Atty 2: "Objection"

    Judge: "Sustained - the jury is instructed to disregard."

    Atty 1: "No further questions"

    Any question/response ruled inadmissable would be deleted - no chance of influencing the jury either intentionally or by accident.

    If the jury pool is tainted or unable to reach a verdict, just seat a new jury and replay the recordings.

    If evidence or judge's instructions are ruled incorrect or inadmissable by a higher court just edit the recording and show it to a new jury. This also eliminates the problem of a witness who dies before a retrial.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:14PM (#10314150)
    I do hardware design. I'm doing my best to make sure that nothing that I do helps anyone to kill anyone else. Now it seems that even designing an LCD monitor might be making someone's death happen sooner.

    Let's just be clear about this: killing people is considered WRONG out here in the "rest of the world". The U.S. is in the company of a few places like China, Saudi Arabia and the former regime in Iraq by killing people convicted of serious crimes. IT IS NOT NORMAL. Let's all boycot the United States and everything that comes out of it until they stop this unpleasant practice.
  • Re:My job (Score:5, Interesting)

    by here4fun ( 813136 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:20PM (#10314182) Homepage Journal
    grandparent: When we're testing the systems in new installations we're ordered to cut back on the gamma and hike up the contrast for the cameras that focus on the defendant. The reason? To make the defendant more menacing.

    parent: Is it any worse than having the defendant show up with freshly cut hair, a clean shaved face, and in a suit?

    Should it matter how the defendant looks? If we have a system where looks matter, then we need a new system. If someone is white and in a nice suit, should that excuse the person, where the judge thinks "oh, he made a bad mistake, i feel sorry for him", but if it is a poor black teen the judge thinks "miserable evil uneducated basturd, you deserve to suffer for being so dark".

    It is like there are two legal systems, one for the rich and one for the poor. One who can afford their own private lawyer, and one who gets a public defender. Let me guess, these monitors will mostly be used with poorer people who can't afford their own attorney to assert their rights.

  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:54PM (#10314481) Homepage
    Cut the welfare budget by 50% at a minimum and transfer the money over in each state to building more courts, hiring more prosecutors, judges and public defenders (good ones) and pass laws requiring the police to prioritize all property crimes above anything specious like drug crimes. Why? It'll kill two birds with one stone: slow trial dockets and much of the poverty in America.

    What I am talking about isn't the shrill left wing bullshit of "OMG they want to lock up all the poor people" but rather a strict libertarianization of Giuliani's "Broken Windows" enforcement program. The idea is that you prosecute all minor property offenses and you treat even something as simple as an inner city teen stealing an inner city child's bike as a "gateway crime." It does two things: tries to nip the problem of repeat offenders in the bud by showing them the law always applies, and it shows the poor that the law can work for them just like the rich.

    Without strong property protections, the poor don't have an incentive to believe that hard work really pays off. For every cop that genuinely believes that they have a moral imperative to protect that inner city single mother and her kids' property, there are probably 5 that feel that it's "not worth it the trouble to the tax payers." To which I, as a voting Libertarian, have to ask, "then WTF am I doing paying your salary and letting you hide behind a badge?" Seriously, sometimes with this kind of attitude I think we'd be better off in most areas in America with firing 90% of the cops and letting the average law abiding citizen own military-grade infantry weapons and waste any mofo that tries to steal from them. As Heinlein said, an armed society, is a polite society.

    Seriously, just cut the welfare programs, gun control laws, let people use force to defend their property and make the cops accountable for when they don't do a damn thing to take down petty property rights offenders. Within a few years, the poverty in much of the urban areas in America will sharply decline, along with the crime rates, especially the violent crime.
  • Re:My job (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:57PM (#10314503)
    heh, just like that "jury of equals" won't be influenced by how someone looks...there've been tons of studies, and certain looks just appeal more to people. to name an example, if for some reason I wear a suit, all of a sudden I get remarks from people about how smart I look this, and how I should dress more often that. These are people who know me quite well, yet somehow they perceive me differently because I wear a suit and tie. Imagine what it's like when dealing with a total stranger.
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:59PM (#10314521)
    But this technology is intended to increase the accuracy of the information presented to the jury, and will not only help make trials shorter, but will help make them fairer as well. There's no "random element" purported to be added here. And the faster each trial goes, the shorter the wait will be before a person gets their day in court, as well.

  • This isn't new (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bruce McBruce ( 791094 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:03PM (#10314554)
    Last year I went to a law firm for work experience, and I got to go to criminal and family court a couple of times. It was a pretty low-tech town I was in for that, but the courtroom still had a video-witness plasma screen mounted on either side of the room and rather encompassing mics so the lawyers could talk to the witness.

    This was just a local trouble but they were still using the interactive/plasma screens for witness protection, so I wouldn't be surprised at all that these guys are being video-trialled.

    Wonder if I could get the link to this trial, though...

  • Sci-Fi != Reality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Capitalist1 ( 127579 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:16PM (#10314638)
    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.

    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'?

    The idea that only a 'primitive' society could still have the Death Penalty is bizarre, bordering on the contemptibly stupid.

    In other words, I'm sure it's all the rage on college campuses.
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug&geekazon,com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:45PM (#10314849) Homepage
    I've long believed that an important step toward greater justice and less waste of time would be to forbid attorneys from appearing before the jury. Questions to witnesses should be submitted in a way that the jury neither sees nor hears the attorney. It's important for the jury to know the questions and to see and hear how the witness reacts and responds, and how the accused reacts. But there's no need to let the lawyer do their song and dance, putting spin on questions and role-playing how they want the jury to react to the answers.

    Really good lawyers know how to size up jurors, decide which of them to "work on" and play to them individually, knowing that a purely psychological reaction by one person can deadlock the result. Technology like this being installed in courtrooms would make it physically possible to move the lawyer offstage. But I doubt very much that the Johnny Cochrans of the world will let go of their bread and butter merely for the sake of justice.
  • Faster != Better (Score:4, Interesting)

    by holt_rpi ( 454352 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @01:35AM (#10316336)
    We had a trial practice class when I was in law school, and this guy came in with some snazzy graphics he'd done for a DA's office somewhere... the problem with some of the use of courtroom technology is that juries are likely to believe "oh, this is how it happened" instead of "oh, this is how it could have happened" because they can see it played out for them on the screen.

    I am part of what I hope is a growing number of people who think that "Powerpoint and Technology In the Courtroom" is actually a great leap backwards, and not a step forwards.

    When prosecutors can out-spend a defendant and get super computer graphics to snow the jury into snuffing reasonable doubt, where's the justice in that?
  • Re:Faster != Better (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @10:20AM (#10318239)
    I agree (Anonymous to protect my job).

    But this is what I do (run the displays) and if only one side is using the tech it really unbalaces things.

    We generally do corporate civil stuff, so both sides are doing the same thing. And in that case it really does help the jury get a better understanding. Even when only one side uses the tech it helps them understand, but only one side of the story.

    Our just system is designed on both sides doing their best though, so is it fair to say, you cannot do your best in presenting your case, because your best is so much better.

    We typically have a large projection screen. Monitors for the jury and lawyers, court reporter and judge. The Lawyers/Judge get to see the transcript in real time. The Jury does not (in case there is a disagreement on what was really said, showing the jury the non official version could be pregudicial). The judge has a switch so that the juries monitors/projector can be switched off in the case of an objection.

    There are already plenty of people like you. There are also judges that think the jury should be in the dark as possible (not alloud to take notes, not alloud to see the documents being read into the record, just generally all around left with nothing to see and no notes to take, and then 2 weeks later form an opinion based on the whole thing and not the closings.

    I don't think informing the jury is wrong, though the inequity of it is a hard problem to solve. In the civil cases I work on I don't mind it too much, but the fact that people's entire lives are at steak here turns my stomach (though still, why should the DA be forced to dumb things down).

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson