Video Arraignments and the Evolution of Legal Representation

June 20th, 2011

Christopher Danzig at ATL reports how Courts are using video-teleconferencing for basic proceedings.

For example, as I previously reported, a Georgia court let a criminal witness testify via Skype.

Last week a government survey revealed that Pennsylvania state courts conduct more than 15,000 video conferences each month. More than half were preliminary arraignments, but the state used videoconferencing for warrant proceedings, bail hearings and sentencing hearings, too.

According to the survey, not only does video conferencing save the state a boatload of money, it also saves magistrate judges from having to personally interact with the pesky “derelicts” charged with crimes.

Pennsylvania has seen some great reduction in costs:

Pennsylvania started incorporating video in 2003, according to the Law Technology News:

The Supreme Court amended the criminal procedure rules in 2003 to allow for video conferencing in proceedings in which it does not impede defendants’ ability to confront witnesses. Shortly after, several counties throughout the state used tax dollars [to] put the requisite technology in place.

Using video conferencing not only cuts down on the cost of transporting prisoners to court, but also cuts down on the costs of an attorney. Travel costs are expensive for lawyers. I can certainly imagine a time in the not-so-distant future where attorneys can appear virtually. Think of how much cheaper legal services become? How many more people will have access to justice in that sense!

There are, of course drawbacks:

Unsurprisingly, some attorneys have concerns. For starters, being on video can make clients uncomfortable, and “whispering over a video screen isn’t quite as easy as it is in person.”

I also imagine there are a number of ethical,, fiduciary, due process, and competent assistance issues if representation is remotely. Stay tuned.