When we think of courtrooms, we usually think of tradition and formality, and with the proceedings being a somewhat slow, tedious process, involving a lot of papers and other documents.
The Eaton County 56A District Courthouse, which was built in 1976, has not seen much updating since then, as far as technology. The court is located at 1045 Independence Boulevard, Charlotte. Jury trials, which have been on hold due to COVID-19, will be resuming on March 16, 2021 at the courthouse.
It’s time for a change, a chance to modernize the courthouse. Technology is now being installed in each courtroom which will allow the courts to show evidence, documents, and other items in a more meaningful and an easier way.
Jeff Parshall, director of Eaton County Technology Services, explained the improvements made in the technology-enhanced courtrooms, with the main update being how documents and evidence are made available to the court. This upgrade was being planned before the COVID-19 pandemic, Parshall said.
The main premise of the upgrade is to provide ease of use of courtroom documents so that the witness, the questioning lawyer, the jury, and the judge can all see the exhibit at the same time.
In the past, most courtroom work was done via paper and photographs or possibly using a DVD to display evidence items. This would be passed to judge and jury, which was a slow process, and not very efficient. With the upgrades being done, video files, images, spreadsheets, and more are cast on screens to the entire courtroom, allowing the judge, the jury, and attorneys to view them simultaneously. A paperless courtroom, conceivably.
The technological advancement also allows the jury to see the evidence better and facilitates the presentation of body-cam videos, Parshall explained,
Attorneys can now make presentations to the court from their own laptop, iPad or phone.
With five courtrooms and budget limitations, the technology has been introduced into the courtrooms in stages, with two rooms completed in 2020, two in 2021, and the last one will be in 2022. The cost for the improvements is about $20,000 per courtroom, Parshall said.
Juries have been moved from the jury box to the public seating pews to allow for proper social distancing in the courtrooms. This means that there is no seating available for the general public at a trial. Cameras have been installed to record the proceedings, however, and make them available on YouTube for those wishing to view them from another location. A link to the courtroom livestreams is available at eatoncounty.org/386/District-Court-56A .
Zoom technology (Zoom provides videotelephony services through a cloud-based software platform) will be utilized even more in the court system, allowing inmates to remain in jail during their trial. Previously only one inmate at a time could use the videoconferencing system for their arraignment, but with the better capability that Zoom provides, six inmates can simultaneously meet with their attorney or probation officers without anyone having to enter the jail to meet. It is also available in hearing rooms.
With the courts being closed for so long due to COVID, the system hasn’t been used much yet, Parshall said. “We expect to have some growing pains and will make any necessary changes as needed,” he added. “We just want to offer every capacity to be able to do what needs to be done, from where ever they are.”