This courtroom in Long Beach, Calif., incorporates AV systems into its clean architectural design.
Today’s courtrooms are facing unprecedented technological demands, unlike anything that their predecessors faced in the 19th and 20th centuries.
A case in point: In the name of judicial transparency, many trials are now being broadcast. This requires the creation of multiple video camera positions in the courtroom, plus microphone installations for judges, witnesses, legal counsel and even jury members.
As well, video and computer information is increasingly being used in legal proceedings. This compels courtrooms to be equipped with high-resolution video monitors, multimedia sources and servers, and to have access to the Internet for bringing in evidence from remote sites.
These Internet connections are also being tasked for video arraignments, where suspects are interviewed by videoconferencing links from their jail cells, rather than being transported to and from court. In addition, these connections support remote translation services for suspects and witnesses who do not speak English. This ensures that they have the chance to understand the trial proceedings and testify in their native languages, without the cost of a translator being brought into court.
Kevin Sandler is the CEO and founder of ExhibitOne, a Phoenix-based AV engineering firm that has done nearly 2,300 AV installations nationwide during its 18 years in business. Its courtroom AV projects include the recently-completed Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach, Calif., which has a range of AV systems across its 31 courtrooms, judges’ chambers, jury rooms and offices.
“Over the past 18 years, we have seen a fundamental transformation in AV technology from analog to digital,” said Sandler. “In the place of CRT displays and VGA cables, we are now seeing a full range of IT/IP-based components making their way into America’s courtrooms; including Crestron projection and control systems.”
Panasonic interactive display panels are also being installed in American courtrooms, allowing lawyers to illustrate their arguments using touch screen displays and multi-colored electronic pens for real-time annotations.
The judiciary’s performance expectations of AV technology has kept pace with its growing capabilities. In particular, “the expectations for high-definition video presentation has skyrocketed,” said Jason Roberts, sales engineer with LVW Electronics in Colorado Springs, Colo.
An AV-equipped courtroom at the Denver Supreme Court.
LVW has designed and installed AV systems for 164 courtrooms in Colorado over the last 10 years, including the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
“Our most recent large project was the new Dennis Maes Justice Center in Pueblo, Colo., using Crestron DM 8G video distribution in 16 courtrooms,” Roberts said.
The courts also expect much more from their audio capture and presentation equipment. In response to this, LVW installs Biamp Nexia or AudiaFlex systems.
“Biamp offers the most reliable digital signal processing platform we have tested,” said Roberts. “Our preferred amplifier has always been QSC CX series for reliability, but Extron's XPA series fits the bill when fan noise is an issue. Shure MX series goose neck microphones continue to be the most reliable, consistent and best sounding for courtroom applications.”
Rack of AV equipment at the Denver Supreme Court
LVW uses Atlas FAP series speakers for drop-ceiling installations, “and a combination of other manufactures to solve unique architectural problems including several of our own in-house designs,” Roberts said.
MODEL AV COURTROOM
America’s courtrooms range in design from technology-hostile heritage structures built 100 years ago, to modern facilities capable of incorporating the latest in AV and IT equipment. As a result, it is impossible to point to a common model to show what’s possible in the 21st century AV-equipped courtroom.
Fortunately, a training courtroom at the St. Louis University School of Law in St. Louis. Mo, can fill the bill. It is the John K. Pruellage Courtroom, which sits on the 12th floor of the new SLU Joe and Loretta Scott Hall academic building.
Using a variety of Crestron products, this courtroom has video displays for the judge, jury, witnesses, clerk and legal counsels. There are microphones at all significant seating locations, plus a document camera, a Blu-ray player, and connections to plug in laptop computers and other input devices for lawyers to use. Both defense and prosecution positions have Crestron touch screens on their desks to control the AV equipment, and can also use a video annotation device to make their points.
Moreover, the SLU training courtroom has a Polycom videoconferencing system, which is connected to four Vaddio remotely-controlled pan/tilt/zoom cameras. These cameras support remote video depositions and arraignments, and allow the school to link to remote sites such as Afghanistan, to help women there with legal issues. These cameras are also used to record mock trials and broadcast the proceedings live to lecture halls on campus.
The judge's desk at the Ben County Courthouse in Las Animas, Colo., provides uncluttered access to AV technology.
All told, this training courtroom has access to the kinds of modern AV systems that tomorrow’s lawyers will work with on a daily basis. That’s the reason why the SLU School of Law built the John K. Pruellage Courtroom.
“A big part of our mission is to help our students transition into the real world,” said Craig Williams, the school’s manager of multimedia services. “We need to make sure they are ready for whatever kind of technology they’ll encounter as attorneys.”
Government video professionals who are tasked with bringing courtrooms up to date are faced with potentially monumental tasks. On the one hand, they need to achieve the high level of AV functionality that the judiciary is increasingly demanding. On the other, they must do so without disrupting the fundamental operations of the court, and making enemies in the process. And in many cases, they have to do this in buildings without significant infrastructure for such projects, and restricted down time for such projects to be installed.
To balance these opposing forces, the people planning the AV upgrades should first consult with judges, clerks, and local lawyers—both prosecution and defense—to gauge what their expectations and needs actually are in court. From this research, the AV planners can hammer out a basic approach that can be approved by the necessary authorities before any equipment is purchased.
Next, the wisest path is for AV planners to seek out vendors who will supply equipment that is discreet and low profile, easy to install, and capable of interfacing with the court’s IT/IP network.
This point cannot be overemphasized: IT/IP-compatible AV equipment can use existing LANs for connectivity and Internet access. It is also in line with the ongoing convergence that is taking place between AV and IT equipment, and the departments that service them.
MORE INFO Biamp Systems: www.biamp.com
LVW Electronics: www.lvw.com
QSC Audio: www.qsc.com
SLU School of Law: www.slu.edu
Third, don’t reinvent the wheel: There are already many high-end AV-equipped courtrooms in existence that can serve as models for AV planners. Installers such as ExhibitOne and LVW Electronics, and manufacturers such as Biamp and Crestron, are also good knowledge resources, with years’ of experience in making courtroom AV work.
Fourth, AV planners need to work closely with courthouse IT departments from the earliest stages of their projects, or risk running into serious issues down the road. This is because modern courtroom AV systems depend on the data networks provided by county and state judicial IT departments.
“The IT department and AV contractor must come together early in the planning process,” said LVW Electronics’ Roberts. “These shotgun marriages are seldom easy. IT departments are rightfully suspicious of the added workload and possible security risk, while AV integrators must have enough knowledge of the equipment they intend to install to discuss their needs with IT staff.”
There is good news, however.
“When everything does come together, all parties to the project are rewarded with systems that are higher in quality, easier to maintain and more reliable,” Roberts said.
FUTURE OF AMERICAN JUSTICE?
As the 21st century progresses, AV technology used in U.S. courtrooms will continue to grow in usage, functionality, capability and importance. In fact, such are the informational, safety and cost-saving advantages of using AV in court, that this technology seems poised to form the foundation of legal proceedings in the years ahead.
Given this apparent destiny, AV planners are likely to become integral and essential to the operation of the U.S. justice system. This is why understanding all that AV can do in court, and the kinds of technology needed to deliver this level of service, is an absolute must for government video professionals.