What you should know before Bringing Electronic Equipment into a Court of Law

Any legitimate courtroom commissioned by constitutional law contains the exercise of a scheduled, interactive presentation that consists technically of a plaintiff, a defendant, a judge – and possibly a jury of the defendant’s peers instructed to judge the facts of the case or alternately to perform amusing tricks on behalf of any judge’s avoidance of impropriety. The jury trial holds the most sacred version of justice.

That’s not the only reason why the rules against electronic equipment are slanted in favor of courtroom procedures and limited – such as to the use of jurors and certain court officials. But such should be reason sufficient to state the nature of the need of securing guarantees of justice without risk of unsolicited intrusion or interference with courtroom proceedings. Punishment is an offense that may garner up to a year of imprisonment, in addition to a suitable fine in any case where the proceedings of a grand jury or petit jury are intruded upon with any act of recording, listening or observing their negotiation or voting by any technological device or deliberate act. Authority for this penalty comes from “Crimes and Criminal Procedure,” USC 18 Ch. 73 § 1508 (in reference to “Obstruction of Justice,” Part I of the chapter.)

Beyond the sacred chambers of the jury is Rule #53 of United States Code Title 18, Chapter 201 Section 3004, written also as Rule #53 of the USC, Title 18a, under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Title IX, “General Procedure.” Rule #53, on matters of “courtroom decorum,” provides that no photographs and no broadcasting may occur from inside of a courtroom while proceedings are in session.

As clarified in the title’s appendix (USC 18a), the current language provides for future rules that may allow for a specifically limited roles of the use of such technologies that could include hosting of a remote video-conference.

Response has been varied as to how courts throughout the land implement and interpret their own policies regarding Congress’s laws concerning the use of electronic equipment. For example, the policy of the courts of Frederick County, Maryland, specify the following rules, notably that all electronic devices must be kept OFF and hidden from view, that anyone or anything can be searched by any court guard, and that contempt charges or confiscation are possibilities for anyone who resorts to breaking the court’s posted policy.  Meanwhile, courts imposing bans on cell phone use cite apprehension over such matters as undercover cops being exposed in photos or gang members tracking court witnesses, jury safety, concealed bomb, or look-alike stun guns designed to imitate cell phones but demonstrate electrode power intentionally. In some cases, such as in the McDowell County, North Carolina ban, cell phones are banned from the courthouse as the rule, at risk of confiscation without return. Exceptions are sometimes made depending upon qualifying criteria.

With the idea of local county courts or district courts in mind, it is also important to distinguish that the prevailing law of the U.S. Code (Titles 18 and 18a) is not the same book produced by the court of any particular jurisdiction for its own purpose and mission of handling any necessary matters of adherence to legitimate federal law as well as its own state or local law.

In an an insightful article of August 11, 2009, titled, “Getting Electronics Into the Courtroom” of the National Law Journal, California district court clerk Katherine A. Helm reports on a fraud of justice that was so intrusive that a Florida judge had to declare a mis-trial. While judge was in a conference with attorneys out of jury earshot, a witness still on the stand was using a mobile phone to consult with a company executive for advice about a proper testimony.

Foregoing pad and pen, an experimental Boston-region court of the Quincy District in Massachusetts is experimenting with an open-multimedia policy that will allow for electronic devices of any sort to be brought into the justice arena. Now laptops and mobile devices in general can be used with a range in choice of social media during courtroom proceedings to keep the public posted about any particular trial, while live video is also a concept thanks to in-house Wi-fi. Participation is not limited to reporters, but also to anyone willing to use the designated seating, blogs Julie D. Andrews at AllFacebook.com earlier this week. The chief judge of the court has say in requiring such devices turned OFF during more graphic cases.

Court-sponsored Wi-fi would seem to solve an avalanche of otherwise possible problems with more power-hungry broadcasting equipment while under house supervision.

Adherence to the statutes is important. In order to get a fair trial, unnecessary distractions or diversions should be held off while prosecution and defense poke around or even at crucial but necessary evidence in arguing their own, ostensibly supported conclusions. Failure to abide by the rules of the court that aim to remove extraneous diversions risks that one may be promoting an unfair trial for oneself, so it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the specific policies of any specific court prior to arraignment, hearing or trial, if possible.

Recommended Reading

[1] Cameras in the Courtroom | The Florida Bar

[2] Flash Mobs Bound for Germany’s Highest Court | Spiegel Online

[3] Live Tracking of Mobile Phones Prompts Court Fights on Privacy | NYTimes.com

[4] Cell phone lands courtroom spectator in hot water | LawyersUSA.com

[5] Court Cell Phone Rule Passes | MSBA.com