Technology in the courtroom can be defined as anything that is displayed electronically during courtroom procedures. The world today is highly advanced technologically, and it is therefore important for the use of technology to be transferred to the courtroom also. Research has proven that jurors actually understand and retain information better when technology is applied in the presentation of cases. Courtroom technology includes the use of the document camera, VCR and monitor system (ELMO). It also includes the use of E-graphics such as Power Point presentations and animations. The use of such forms of technology is especially effective in document-intensive cases. This paper will discuss the evolution and usefulness of technology in the courtroom (Fuller & Larson, 2004).
Although the use of technology in the hearing and trial of cases is not an entirely new concept, the American courtroom has progressively adapted more technology usage in courtroom presentations in recent years. For example, interactive television was in the past permitted only during criminal cases but over the years, it has been used even in other trials, a move that has resulted in the saving of time and expenses. The history of courtroom technology dates back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the visual evidence presenters (ELMOs) were first used. Before then, marker boards and charts were used for presentation (Pennsylvania Bar Institute, 2002).
Advancement of courtroom technology has also been facilitated by the fact that the jurors of this day and age are younger and more tech-savvy, therefore, information has to be presented to them in a way that they understand better. Outdated methods would not suit this generation that grew up around technology. Under the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Joint Technology Committee has been formed to ensure a smooth transition into technological advancement in the legal sector. Its main roles are; to ensure court leaders are sufficiently educated and trained in the use of technology, to improve court processes and business practices, to collaborate with the justice community and other stakeholders and lastly to develop and promote technology standards in the courts. Over the years, orally delivered presentations and printed evidence that is handed out to the juror has increasingly become outdated, especially with the rapid advancement of highly efficient and effective technologies. The main advantage of technology is that it shortens the trial period, thus making the judiciary system more efficient
In the United States, out of the 1,366 district courts present, 363 have laptop computers and 370 have computer monitor displays for the jury (Fuller & Larson, 2004). Lawyers, attorneys and other legal counsel have also widely adapted the use of technology in their presentation of evidence and facts to the jury. It is proven that audiovisual information is more understandable and retainable than information which one only hears
With the high levels of technological advancement, it has been possible to adapt various types of technologies depending on the case at hand. This equipment include document cameras which are also commonly referred to as Elmo, VCR operators that are used to play cassettes that may contain evidence, display devices such as proxima, video printers, annotation tablets with video markers that are used to highlight or mark a certain page on a projector, microphones. Also used are computers, which are used to store exhibits especially in lengthy complicated cases, projectors and infrared equipment. Case management and trial management software have also been developed. The most common trial presentation software is Trial Director and Sanction. Such software facilitate effective case presentation because documents are more easily blown up, highlighted and compared to one another and it enables the jury to read, hear and see depositions at the same time, thus facilitating easier comprehension of the facts and statements that are brought before the court during trial. To a large extent, the use of technology in the courtroom also saves money in terms of reducing the resources that would have been used to present each member of the jury and the counsel panel with the relevant documents. It is more economical to use e-mail or spread sheets to carry out such activities (Pennsylvania Bar Institute, 2002).
In the courtroom, technology can be used for advanced purposes such as recreating crime and accident scenes, analysis and dissemination of financial statements and preparing witnesses.
The Judiciary system in America has allowed the permeation of modern technology into the courtrooms, but there are still standards that have to be met for the technology to be recognized as legitimate (Fuller & Larson, 2004). The problem with technology is that it is can sometimes be manipulated to one’s advantage. Lawyers can sometimes use certain visual environments in their technologically aided presentations that alter the emotions and perspectives of the jury.
Therefore, the court sees the need to come forth with standards that will regulate the use of technology in the courtroom. Otherwise, justice might not be fully applicable in some cases. Firstly, the court should actively take up the role of being a supervisory body over the type of data that they are presented with. In addition, to be considered is whether the right procedures were carried out in the collection and presentation of the same. This is where the NCSC comes in; they are the ones to ensure that measures are taken to develop, implement and enforce proper standards and procedures in the employment of technology in courts. Secondly, JTC should ensure that the electronic devices are safeguarded in order to keep the information contained private.
The development of techno-savvy courtrooms have occurred with the collaboration of the expertise of technology developers, social and behavioral scientists and legal scholars. The Joint Technology Committee of the NCSC acts as the general watchdog to the implementation of the required standards in all the courtrooms nationally. Technology developers are crucial to the process because they provide important information on the devices that are going to be used. They answer important questions such as; can the devices be altered or manipulated to suit a particular side? They also ensure that the devices put in place are 100% reliable, in terms of the information they relay and that the systems should not be prone to collapse or failure. Social and behavioral scientists determine whether the use of the electronic devices bears the potential to alter the truth in anyway. Instances of this would involve manipulating the mindset of the jury or the witnesses. For example, lie detectors are not admissible in court because it has been proven possible to cheat a lie detector test by being in full control of one’s thoughts and emotions (Fuller & Larson, 2004).
Lastly, legal scholars are crucial in the process because they analyze the use of certain technology from a legal perspective. They provide information on factors such as whether it is ethical, legal and permissible to use various electronic devices during trial and courtroom presentations. They play an important role in ensuring that the technologies that are adapted do not contravene the laws of the state and that the right procedures are followed in taking up new technologies. The Justice system would break down if the required standards were not met. Therefore, all the parties involved should collaborate to ensure that the standards are followed (Pennsylvania Bar Institute, 2002).
Adoption of technology in the legal sector cannot be ignored. Its benefits are numerous, the most important one being that it enables the justice system to function faster at a higher level of efficiency and lower costs. In addition to this, it is the 21st Century and everything is technologically advanced, therefore change in the manner in which trial and courtroom presentations are done is also imminent. Since technological advancement is a positive step for the legal sector of our country, it should be embraced and implemented.
Fuller, F., & Larson, B. (2004). Computers: Understanding Technology: Brief
Tech Edge Series. St Paul, MN: EMC/Paradigm
Pennsylvania Bar Institute. (2002). Technology in the courtroom. Mechanicsburg, PA: Pennsylvania Bar Institute