Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Video Testimony: The Virtual Courtroom for the ACO. Here are just a few of his responses.
Host: Here in Justice Clearinghouse, we take every single one of our speakers to a tech check to mitigate technical challenges ahead of time. Do the courts do that or is that something you think might be a good suggestion for our courts and administrators?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question. And, a little embarrassing and ironic actually that I had IT issues in the middle of a presentation about IT issues. So, yes, the court should and I’m sure there are courts who have taken a very proactive role in that. It’s not something that happens universally, and I would say that the vast majority of those that are entering the courtroom could probably use some additional training on technology. So, my experience has been, there’s always a need for additional training.
Audience Question: When folks testify virtually, are they practicing first or are they rehearsing how to testify, how to connect through the camera, get the lighting straight. Are they practicing first?
Adam Leath: They are, and we talked earlier in the presentation about prepping with your counsel, that’s exactly what we did during that process. So, those questions were created for the prosecutor to ask or the county/attorney to ask us. She was rehearsing those questions; she actually went through her entire testimony. Throughout that process, so she knew what to expect, she knew what questions were going to be coming up. And she knew what information would be important for us to be able to portray to the court.
Audience Question: So, how does this compare when you were prepping for in-person testimony? Is it the same amount of preparation, are you prepping more for a virtual testimony?
Adam Leath: I think it’s more challenging because our prosecutors have been working from home as well. And so, trying to find the ability for you and the prosecutor to meet in person when you have a large caseload, they also are in front of their computer most of the day. It has been a little more challenging in terms of scheduling. We do our prep sessions virtually. But there are things you can’t show, we can’t show a physical item of evidence that easily. You had to show a picture. So, that was definitely a lot of need there for prep work and for you to work with your prosecutor.
Audience Question: So, given the videos, there were several instances where there varying decrease of audio quality or audio interference from one participant to the next. Even with the same person’s presentation, what is your best piece of advice? Do you recommend somebody saying, “Judge, can we pause and get the audio rectified?” What is the best advice when you just simply can’t understand what the person is saying?
Adam Leath: So, the court is the person, I mean, the judge is the person who will make that decision and they are hosts of that virtual platform. So, all the judges have the ability to mute everyone and they typically do that. I’ve seen judges who mute everyone, and the participant is unable to unmute themselves, only the judge does that. I’ve also had a recent case last week, where the defendant was very belligerent, started arguing, screaming. And the judge actually muted them throughout the entire process. That was actually pretty nice in that aspect. The court has the ability to do that. But I’ll always encourage to send a message to the prosecutor or to your county attorney if you’re having an issue during that because they are the ones who are representing you and they will absolutely want to make sure if there is a problem with audio or hearing that’s brought up.
Audience Question: So, final question for the day. Adam, what do you think is the role of the virtual courtrooms are going to be going forward? Do you think this is a concept that’s going to away after COVID, or is it a skill set that we all need to kind of learn?
Adam Leath: I think it’s a skill set we should embrace. We should embrace all forms of technology and while I don’t think the way that we’re doing the virtual courtroom is going to stay the same, I do think there are aspects of it that are cost-savings. It’s certainly better to be able to access individuals who are in jail or will cause them travel costs. There are many aspects that do stay, and I see there are certain hearings that might, in the future, be more virtual versus others who might be in person. But I think there are aspects of it that are here to stay.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Video Testimony: The Virtual Courtroom for the ACO.