Within the ever-changing climate of COVID-19, every public space must adapt, this is no different for the court system. With courts now holding in-person trials, the courtroom layout must change to accommodate for social distancing. Your next trial may not look the same.
**DISCLAIMER: These courtroom changes may not apply to your county courthouse.**
Courts have begun reopening across the state of Pennsylvania with the increased need to carry on with scheduled in-person civil and criminal trials. A University of Pittsburgh law professor, David Harris, is quoted in a WITF article saying, “the further you get away from the date of charge, the harder it can be to mount a defense.” Additionally, Harris worries the court of appeals might say, “’Well, despite all the difficulties of the situation and the local courts doing everything they could, the delay was just too long.’” The change in the courtroom landscape is necessary, not only for the continuation of scheduled and upcoming trials, but also for the protection of the attorneys, clients, judges, and juries who will be attending the trials.
One of the most obvious changes you will see in entering a COVID Era courtroom is the location of the jury. The times of a close quarters jury box are gone, for now. In many courtrooms, juries are being moved from the jury box to the gallery. With this change there comes challenges for the attorneys, paralegals, judges, court staff and the jurors themselves.
With the movement of the jury to socially distanced spacing within the gallery you face the problem of the jurors being too far away from presented evidence. To accommodate for these changes, more screens and more visibility will be required in most courtrooms.
Capitol Support Service is prepared to adapt with you to the changing landscape and provide the necessary equipment to ensure socially distanced jurors can see and hear your evidence. In addition to large projection screens, we provide table monitors for each station within the courtroom. We’ve added multiple large 32” flat screen monitors to our arsenal that can be placed anywhere within the courtroom for better evidence visibility.
A jury can not determine innocence, guilt, negligence, or factual cause without ample knowledge of evidence and testimony. Eliminate the need for handout distribution, too small trial boards, or close quarters contact with the use of the projection and display options available to you.
With the changes in the courtrooms come alterations in witness testimony. You may have witnesses who will need to testify remotely. Remote testimony is not a new concept, but it will be a more prevalent occurrence. Witness testimony via video conference introduces moving parts and many variables, it is extremely important that everyone understands what is required to make this as seamless a transition as possible.
The most critical component of remote testimony is internet signal, both in the courtroom and for the witness. Intermittent drop outs and weak signal strength will lead to choppy testimony. We recommend testing signal strength at both ends multiple times prior to testimony. Wifi hotspots are available but may not be enough to provide a reliable connection. It is important to explore other connectivity options when preparing for remote witness testimony.
Other variables of remote testimony include cameras, microphones, and speakers. While this sounds self-explanatory and simple, it can become a headache in a hurry. Placement of the equipment is vital to be sure everyone can see and hear. How will you, opposing counsel, the judge and the jury see and hear the testifying witness while the witness can see and hear everyone in the courtroom?
Capitol Support Service provides all the audio and visual equipment needed to effectively conduct a remote testimony. Our technicians set up microphones, speakers, and cameras for the benefit of everyone in the courtroom. The technician will work in producing a quality and reliable internet connection via WiFi, hotspot, or other connection option. Let Capitol Support Service worry about the technology while you focus on winning your case.
In June, the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts released a booklet of recommendations for the continuation of trials. The below are some recommended changes by the mentioned groups.
One recommendation involves personnel in the courtroom. The judge will have the ability to determine who is essential to the conduct of the trial. This rule may eliminate families of the defendant and plaintiff. In some cases, the only people permitted in the courtroom will be counsel, representatives, technicians, and staff.
With the instatement of remote witness testimony, the judge reserves the decision to require in person testimony from certain witnesses. Witnesses who are required to appear in person will be sequestered prior to trial after a health check and will most likely be dismissed from the court building after testifying. Counsel will not be permitted to approach the witness at any time. Additionally, it is recommended the witnesses be required to wear clear face shields in lieu of a cloth mask to prevent obscuring their face and expressions.
Counsel should plan on having evidence digitized if possible, prior to trial. Any required paper evidence or documentation must be printed and delivered to the courtroom before the start of trial. Judge copies will be placed on the bench. The recommendation is for evidence to be presented on a universally visible screen within the courtroom. Passing out documents and paper will be discouraged.
The use of sidebars will be moved from in person to digital communication. Counsel may sidebar with the judge via text or email or remote video chat. This will eliminate the risk to counsel and judges sequestered in a small area from COVID-19 transmission.
The above are merely researched recommendations that have not been accepted in any recorded fashion by a Pennsylvania court.
The changes in the courtroom could become a problem for many attorneys if not approached with the intent of providing the best visual and audible representation of their case. Without effective communication to the jury, who will be significantly farther away from you, it is improbable you will be able to provide a quality depiction of your evidence. You need the right equipment for the job. A Capitol Support Service technician is the right person to assist you with all of your courtroom technological needs. Our technician arrives prior to the case to set up and connect all monitors, microphones, cameras, and computers to provide everyone in the room with the ability to hear and see the evidence. In addition to our set up, the technician will sanitize equipment to provide a safe, yet technologically supported, environment. As you return to working, know we are here to support you in keeping you, your client, and your family safe.
Link to Harris comments:
Link to AOPC/PCSTJ Article
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