How The Legal System Uses Videoconferencing

By: Jason Cox

In the legal system cost is a major factor. One of the most important uses of videoconferencing is the reduction in costs for all involved. Through videoconferencing attorneys and legal aides, who are often paid by the hour, can make much better use of their time in research and interviews. With videoconferencing there is no longer a need for long distance travel.

This, of course, saves both time and money. The value of this can be seen in the case where an attorney might have to interview three different witnesses residing in three different states all on the same day. In the case where an out of town witness is need in the courtroom, the witness can be called in by videoconference when necessary, also a great savings in time and money for all those involved.

As to the validity of a videoconference in the courtroom it must be understood that videoconferencing has been widely used in federal and state courts for more than a decade. Overcrowded jails and clogged court dockets are pushing courts to explore the use of videoconferencing. This links back to the value of expediency in the legal system and the use of videoconferencing accelerates the processing of cases while it reduces time consuming and cost demanding practices such as transporting prisoners from the jail to the courthouse, sometimes more than once a day.

As noted, agencies incur heavy expenses when providing security and supervision for inmates who are being transported from jail to the courthouse and then back to jail. Such expense becomes clearer when the true factors of the expense are shown. Actual costs associated with the transportation of inmates include costs of hiring a bus driver, operating a bus, gas and long term maintenance of the vehicle itself.

Today videoconferencing is used by the legal system in a multitude of ways. Take for instance the arraignment procedure where a defendant enters a plea prior to court date. In the past a defendant had to be transported from the jail to the courthouse, which often cost the local government transportation costs as well as security fees. Now a video arraignment system can be installed in the jail and prisoners can make their first appearances before a judge without ever leaving the facility.

Video arraignment via videoconferencing remains one of the most cost effective uses of the technology. Not only are the transportation and security costs of the usual arraignment procedures dismissed by a videoconference, unnecessary paperwork is eliminated. In the usual arraignment procedure where a prisoner was transferred to court proceedings, sheriff, police and corrections personnel just to process the necessary paperwork spent hours. In addition, all this is simply from the jail perspective.

From the courthouse perspective, the common inperson arraignment often causes serious overcrowding of courthouse holding facilities for while a defendant is at the courthouse his actual incourt time may be limited yet he or she must remain available to the court and on premises until they are needed. This is no longer necessary with videoconferencing.

The value of this becomes paramount when there is an increased volume in criminal court cases. The holding capacity of many courthouse facilities is becoming increasingly insufficient to meet current demand. The result is an overcrowded, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous situation. Plus, the fact that transporting individuals can create a delay for the entire court, including the judge, bailiff, public defender, district attorney and anyone else relative to that one particular arraignment. Meanwhile the court docket shows another arraignment waiting.

This is time lost. The use of videoconferencing increases courtroom efficiency and makes for better management of the docket and regardless of jurisdiction size or arraignment caseload, public safety agencies, departments of corrections, and courts throughout the country can benefit from videoconferencing.

For now, although every courthouse is not equipped with a videoconferencing system at this time, it is easy to see in the near future the use of videoconferencing for everything from judge meetings and bond hearings to settlement conferences and child support hearings, all of which reduces the cost to citizens and taxpayers. In the long run there will be more use of videoconferencing in the legal system providing an increased efficiency for all.

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