Trial by Twitter–Why Don’t Courts Use Technology?

trial by twitterI’ve worked in courtrooms as a lawyer for 40 years.  Many electrical and digital advances are used today.  But the courts are far behind government and private business.  Some advances have happened: the court reporters have been replaced by a communication system in courtrooms.  Microphones transmit the spoken word to a remote location to be transcribed.  Witnesses occasionally can testify by Skype.  Some states allow cameras in the courtrooms.  Otherwise, there are few advances in technology.  Why don’t courts use modern technology?  Why don’t we have trial by twitter?

  1.  Courts, by design, are reactive and change much slower than other government bodies and private business.  People use courts if they don’t agree on a contract, for example, or an accusation of a crime.  By design, courts hear the case after a period of time to let the parties prepare and, if necessary, cool down.
  2. In many types of cases, particularly criminal, the Constitution and laws give lots of rights to accused citizens.  For instance, they have a “right to confrontation” against the witnesses.  Traditionally, this has meant the witness must appear in person in court.  Lawyers can cross-examine them.  Many modern communication methods would violate these fundamental rights and laws.
  3. Courts use of modern technology would lead to fast, informal, and efficient communication/decisions.  But these goals are not necessarily what we want from our courts.  We all want a fair and thorough hearing.  We don’t want something fast and filled with mistakes.  Can you imagine “trial by twitter?”  The formality of a courtroom slows everything down and leads to thoughtful decisions.
  4. Undoubtedly, the courts will continue to evolve with technology.  But don’t look for major changes soon.  Even the idea of cameras in the courtroom is not allowed in many states.  Of course, parties to a lawsuit or criminal case will communicate outside the courtroom by email—but not inside the courtroom.  And don’t expect trial by twitter to come ever!

What do you think?  Should we actively try to bring the courtroom into the 21st. century digital age??

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