After identifying some court technology "potholes" yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the judges from the Fairfax General District Court. He saw courtroom technology through the prism of his court - and honestly, it was a new view to me.
As computer forensics experts, we primarily see the use of courtroom technology in the Virginia Circuit Courts - bigger cases, biggers sums at stake, more monies for attorneys and experts . . .
In the District Court, the cases are smaller and will not generally support extensive use of court technology. But as the judge pointed out, attorneys have not yet wrapped their heads around the new technology.
Case in point: a lawyer shows up at trial with a DVD, but no laptop to play it on. He tries to use a court-provided laptop, but that doesn't work. Both the lawyer and that particular judge thought the technology had "failed," but actually, the DVD was in an incompatible format. The fault lay not in the technology, but in the lawyer. It is the lawyer's duty to bring his own laptop, or to test the DVD on the court's system. As our judge noted, his colleagues have very little patience with attorneys who don't bring backup equipment, test equipment or can't fall back on paper where necessary.
Trials in General District Court tend to move along faster than their Circuit Court counterparts. Accordingly, some GDC judges worry that lawyers will either fumble with the technology or use it inefficiently, slowing down an already exceedingly busy docket.
As an example, if an attorney has a recording from a police car's camera, she doesn't need to show the entire recording if only 50 seconds is relevant to the case.
Though technology adoption has been slow in GDC, the judge was expecting, relatively soon, a few lawyers to demonstrate how well this new technology could be used effectively and for the word to spread around the courthouse. He noted a couple of prime examples.
1. It is now simple for a witness to annotate a photograph or other image from the witness stand, with the annotations immediately visible to the jurors. The annotated image can be printed by the Court Clerk and admitted into evidence.
2. If, for example, the precise configuration of a complicated intersection were at issue, a clever lawyer might take a snapshot from Google Earth to make the complicated seem simple, once the visual from the air is there to look at. Cheap, fast, and effective.
How long until these high tech courtrooms are used a lot? Probably not much longer. How long until they are used effectively? I wouldn't even hazard a guess. Lawyers and technology, by in large, are not natural playmates.
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