Judicial facilities should be planned and designed to provide flexibility in the choice, installation and use of court technology. Technology can be used to enhance information and operations, improve public access to court information and services, and reduce administrative costs while increasing efficiency in case processing.

The nature of the courtroom continues to change as it becomes possible to hold hearings and trials using interactive tele- and video-communications. Although live testimony will most likely remain the preferred method of offering testimony, changes in video and telecommunications technology make it possible to conduct a trial without having to bring the witnesses, jurors, and judge together in one courtroom. The day may come when video testimony could supplant the appearance of witnesses at the courthouse. Even jurors could participate from their homes and offices, perhaps by viewing an edited video record rather than the live proceedings. A video trial could be cheaper, safer, less time-consuming, and easier to schedule; make more efficient use of judges' and attorneys' time; reduce pressures on courtroom facilities; and be more considerate of and more convenient for victims and witnesses. Even today, taped depositions may be entered as evidence, children may offer testimony via remote closed-circuit television in stressful situations, expert witnesses can testify by remote video, and judges can conduct arraignments and hold preliminary hearings by remote video hookups to the jail.

Computers support both computing and communications, and will become more tightly integrated as new technologies such as voice recognition, real-time interfaces, and smart peripherals are incorporated into offices and courtrooms. Equipment will continue to grow smaller and will increasingly be portable such as tablets connected via wireless networks. Today's courthouses must accommodate electronic equipment and advanced building systems to provide better distribution of voice, data, and video signals, and permit the interface of the following systems through the use of communication protocols over connected wiring and cabling systems:

  • Generator or standby power
  • Uninterruptible power supply
  • Emergency lighting
  • Lighting control
  • Telecommunication and video conferencing
  • Management information systems (MIS)
  • Energy management systems (EMS)
  • Temperature-monitoring systems (TMS)
  • Control systems on packaged equipment, including chillers, boilers, computer room HVAC, kitchen equipment, laboratory equipment, etc.
  • Fire management (life safety) systems, including detection and smoke control devices
  • Security management and access control
  • Maintenance management
  • Elevator control

It is easy to plan for a single technological application such as automated case management or computer-assisted transcription. Integrating multiple systems such as office automation, case management, document imaging and multimedia presentations, evidence presentation, and remote access/video conferencing is more difficult but promises huge improvements in court processes.

Washington County, Minnesota In-custody Arraignment Courtroom

What happens when video-recording system, an evidence presentation system with multiple video display monitors, and a real-time transcription system are all installed? Can the real-time transcription, case management, and evidence display systems all use the same video monitor? Is one or more cable required? Is a separate computer required for each system? How are all three systems (and more) controlled? If a video monitor is installed at the bench for the judge to view evidence, is a separate monitor required for viewing and working with the electronic case file? How do we get all of the wiring and cables to the courtroom and then distributed to the different locations? How will the lighting system affect video display monitors and even video projection systems?

While maybe not as complicated, a different set of questions arise when considering the office workstation. There may be a computer with video display monitor, keyboard, scanner, printer, telephone, a video-conferencing hook up or camera, task lighting, and environmental controls. How do these various systems work together? How are cabling, phone lines, data lines, and power routed to each workstation? What is required to avoid interference among these systems?

Continued improvements in office and office-related technologies can be expected to improve individual worker productivity, improve communications, reduce movement between and within offices, reduce physical use of paper and physical storage needs, and create a host of other changes in court operations, public and individual work spaces, and how the courts interact with the public.

Specific changes brought about by technological advances will have the following effects:

  • Use of electronic filing and case management/data exchange should reduce the number of runners or attorneys coming to the courthouse, clerk's office, prosecutor's office, public defender's office, probation offices and the like to file or deliver papers, and may reduce the need for counter and public-waiting spaces for these functions. In the short term, however, overall counter space may increase as more public access workstations are provided. Even this may eventually disappear as more information becomes accessible from home or office through the Internet.
  • From a computer workstation or hand held tablets individual staff members will be able to do more (including initiation, updating, calendaring, closing, archiving, and retrieving) with case files and records. Office organization will become less dependent upon the location and flow of paper. Work can be transferred instantly to any location in the courthouse and even outside the building.
  • The use of electronic documents, in conjunction with case management and imaging systems, will mean that case information will be available immediately, which can speed case processing. Court schedules may be published on cable TV and available to computer access from home and office by the Internet.
  • Increased use of electronic documents will decrease paper storage, which in turn means reduced equipment and space requirements for records storage. Because staff will no longer have to transport files to and from chambers or courtrooms, the need for file rooms to be convenient to chambers or courtrooms will be reduced.
  • Use of imaging and remote access will translate to a reduction in the need to transport case files and records from location to location. Correspondingly, remote staff offices may become more feasible and may become prevalent. (It may even be feasible for an individual to change jobs without changing offices.) Clerk, probation, district attorney, and other agency personnel workstations could become an integral part of "court sets" in the future, as increasingly autonomous and multi­ disciplinary court "teams" are located in close proximity to the courtrooms.

In order to make the most use of current and future technologies, court facilities should be designed to support:

  • Communication and data networks (LANs, WANs, and wireless networks). The infrastructure should be designed to serve multiple computer platforms through the building‘s communications backbone.
  • Distributed computing among courts and court-related agencies including desk-based legal research, videoconferencing, Email, automated case management e-filing, document imaging, and records and document storage systems.
  • Multimedia systems including interactive video technology for arraignments and other non-dispositive hearings, evidence presentation and display, court interpreting, intake interviews, initial appearances and probable cause hearings, and staff training.
  • Remote electronic access to court systems, for case/document filing, fine payment, and public information from remote sites (including law offices, motor vehicles offices, or satellite court facilities, other public offices).
  • Assistive Listening devices, TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) service to public, and other assistive devices in courtrooms, offices and court-support areas (jury assembly, hearing rooms, etc.).

As a general rule, judges will use laptop or desktop computers in chambers but require a desktop computer and two video display monitors at the bench. One display is for viewing documents and case information and the other is dedicated for viewing the evidence display system.

Courts and other building tenants should have their own computer system with personal computers (PCs) connected via Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN), with internet access. Wireless networks are the standard in many areas of the courthouse. Separate data server rooms may be required for the courts, Sheriff/Security, Prosecutor, and other tenants in the courthouse.

The most critical consideration in planning for the future implementation of technology is to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to permit the easy upgrade of current systems. Raceways for voice, data, and power cabling/wiring should be designed to provide the greatest amount of future flexibility for hookups to all areas of the courthouse, and the ability to add and replace wiring and cabling in the future as new technologies are installed.

One means of achieving flexibility is through the use of access flooring in open-office environments and courtrooms.

It should be assumed that every workstation, or office, in the courthouse will require a computer workstation with video display monitor, printer, and document scanner. Many workstations will require dual monitors. Other devices that may need to be accommodated include phone chargers, battery chargers, and computer tablets.

Additional computer workstations will include the public counters in the clerks’ offices and clerk’s records room. Counter workstations should have the capability of including a document scanner and printer. Each workstation will likely require at least two data and one voice line (3 CAT 6 lines), and a minimum of two quadriplex electrical outlets. Specialized workstations may require additional electrical outlets. Because of the heat generated by electrical equipment, steps should be taken to ensure that equipment is cooled. Plans should include room for considerable growth in electrical demand.

Design of courtroom workstations, office spaces, and conference and meeting rooms should anticipate use of video conferencing for future communications. All courtrooms, judicial chambers, and judicial conference rooms should have access to video conferencing equipment for the purposes of viewing remote witness testimony, including expert and child witnesses, as well as the ability to conduct remote hearings and interviews.

All courtrooms should have security cameras installed that terminate at the security control center. Security cameras should have the ability to record events within the courtroom.

If installed, cameras should be located to view the judge and witness, the attorney tables, and public gallery. If video images are to be made available to the press or public, cameras should not show the jurors at any point in the proceedings. All controls for such video cameras should be located at the clerk’s workstation and the judge should have a switch with which to turn off the cameras at any point.

Courtrooms over 1000 SF need audio amplification to permit the judge, jurors, litigants, and public spectators to hear clearly and understand the participants. Instead of hard surfaces in the courtrooms, soft acoustic surfaces should be installed whenever audio enhancement systems are installed.

Microphones should be located at the bench, clerk’s workstation, witness stand, lectern, jury box (where present), and attorney tables. Controls should be located at the clerk’s station.

Microphone switches should be provided at each microphone, which will function as Off-Auto. Automatic volume controllers should be used to help compensate for variations in voice levels and microphone distances.

The master controls should be located at the clerk’s station, or judge’s bench, and should include a power switch, master volume control, and override controls.

Permanently installed assistive listening systems should be provided in courtrooms, hearing rooms, jury deliberation rooms, and jury assembly or orientation rooms. Fifty percent, but not less than one of each type of courtroom, is to have a permanently installed assistive listening system. Additionally, 50% but not less than one of each of the following types of spaces is to have a permanently installed assistive listening system: hearing rooms, jury deliberation rooms, and jury assembly or orientation rooms. The minimum number of receivers shall be four percent of the room’s occupant load, but not less than two receivers.

Because it is not always possible to change courtrooms or jury deliberation rooms if someone requires an assistive listening device, it is often easier to install such equipment in all courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms.

Each courthouse should be equipped with a public address system reaching all public areas of the courthouse. Especially in large courthouses, it is possible that a paging system may be needed to locate parties when court schedules fall behind or move ahead more rapidly than anticipated. Such systems should not operate in courtrooms or office areas. The public address system also is useful in the event of an emergency in the courthouse.