Video saves courts time and money
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Video Use Cases
If this can be realized, a host of opportunities exist to introduce efficiencies into the justice system that can result in better use of precious time and personnel resources, while realizing much-wanted costs savings during an era of tight budgets.
At the heart of the process are inmates accused of committing crimes, as communication with them is a prerequisite for a host of interested parties — from prosecutors to probation officers to public defenders — to do their jobs. Los Angeles County currently conducts about 2,500 video sessions per month with its inmates, and that figure could double within a couple of years, according to Noble Kennamer, director of Los Angeles County's Information Systems Advisory Body (ISAB).
"All of those people want to talk to the inmate," he said. "And every time you do it via video, you save a trip."
And the costs for such trips can become significant quickly, particularly in large geographic jurisdictions like Los Angeles County that are notorious for traffic congestion. When the time of the trip is added to the cost of gas, the current video sessions have saved the county about $3.7 million during the past year, Kennamer estimates.
But the beneficial impact of video conferencing is not limited to major metropolitan areas. By using video conferencing, Ada County, Idaho, is able to save on the cost of deputies that accompany each inmate when they make a physical appearance at the courthouse located 6 miles from the county jail, as well as free their time to perform other law-enforcement functions, said Kelsey Proctor, systems specialist for the Ada County Sheriff's office.
"These are people that require three deputies to move them, which is costly and time-consuming," she said. "We are doing video arraignments, and we've expanded to video for attorney-client visits, so our attorneys stay at their offices in the courthouse and they have immediate access to their clients that are in custody. So, it takes out that travel to and from the courthouse to the jail."
Using video as a vehicle for such court appearances also enhances safety in the community, Proctor said.
"Every time you take an inmate out of their cell, you introduce risk," she said, noting that such forays into the public domain also are a prime opportunity for inmates to secure contraband items.
Of course, most criminal cases never reach the trial stage; instead, a plea agreement is reached before a jury is put to work. But even this process traditionally was subject to delays in Collin County, Texas, as a plea offer to a defendant often was not communicated to the accused for days or even a week, as the attorney struggled to find a two-hour window to go through the process of entering the jail and consulting with the client, according to Collin County Judge John Roach.
"That was just a very ineffective way to do that, and it would drag us down significantly," he said. "So, people were staying in jail longer than they should be, at the cost of the taxpayers."
To address this issue, the county installed a video-conferencing system between the courthouse and jail, so that attorneys could inform their clients quickly and efficiently.
"Now, when the district attorney conveys that plea bargain to the lawyer, the lawyer just goes downstairs in the courthouse, goes in the room, picks up the phone, and — in a minute or two — their client is at the receiving end of that video call, and they can see if they can resolve the case," Roach said.
When cases do go to trial, video conferencing is an effective method to secure witnesses, particularly expert testimony from someone that may be located far from the courtroom. Video testimony also has proved to be a useful tool in cases where a child's testimony is crucial, Roach said.
"For them to appear in court is dangerous, disrupting and, I think, long-term disturbing to the child," Roach said. "So we have had children appear in court and testify by video conference, so they don't have to be in the courtroom. That has saved the case — and that little kid, which is very, very important."
In Florida, the Ninth Circuit Court is using video conferencing to enable interpreters to participate in courtroom proceedings without having to travel to the physical location of the court, said spokesman Matt Benefiel. Before video conferencing, this circumstance required extensive use of contract interpreters, but those expenses have decreased marketedly with the new approach, he said.
"We eliminated contractual costs," Benefiel said. "If we had two events happening in two different court houses that were 10 minutes [apart], we would have to hire two contract interpreters or lose two staff interpreters the majority of the day with traffic. For two contract interpreters, that would have been $220 for 10 minutes; [in contrast] our interpreter can sit at his/her desk and hop around either site instantaneously."
During the first year, the Ninth Circuit saved more than $40,000 in contract-interpreter costs, and that figure increased to $115,000 during the past year, Benefiel said.
"It's been a win-win for us," he said. "We recovered our initial investment nine months into our first year of the project."