Instant access to the Internet, cameras and video recorders and communications with others has become second nature in today’s society, as nearly everyone carries a smartphone or tablet. As technology has advanced, the use of these devices has created controversy in state courtrooms, according to reports from area law firms. The controversy, in part, is due to a lack of consistency over what can and cannot be used while court is in session. Recently, in an effort to clear up these misunderstandings, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a new set of guidelines to monitor and regulate the use of smartphones and tablets within courtrooms.
The only existing guidelines for smartphone usage are the directives set forth in 2003, which only regulate cameras in the courtroom. These directives have left the devices created since 2003—including today’s smartphones, iPads, and tablets—out of consideration, with restrictions subject to the whims of each individual judge or vicinity. Under the new guidelines, the state Supreme Court hopes to bring court policies into the digital age and embrace the potential for smartphone use in the courtroom.
The Guidelines: What’s New?
The Guidelines on Electronic Devices in the Courtroom, also known as Directive 08-14, was introduced on December 16, 2014, and will be rolled out for immediate use on February 2, 2015. The guidelines will apply to all state, municipal and tax courts, and will cover any device (portable or otherwise) that exists now or will be invented in later years, with “the capability to transmit, broadcast, record, and/or take photographs.”
Visitors to the courthouse will be permitted to use their electronic devices in common areas and hallways, but will not be allowed to take photographs or record or broadcast video and sound. Anyone inside a courtroom must obtain a written agreement, to be renewed each year, in order to use an electronic device while court is in session. The “Agreement for the Use of Electronic Devices” states that users—including lawyers and others—will comply with the guidelines set forth in the new directive and failure to comply may result in a contempt of court charge or other sanctions.
Those who have signed the agreement are free to “silently take notes and/or transcribe and receive communications and information” on their devices. They must also carry an electronic copy of their signed agreement at all times. The directives do not explicitly state whether people will be able to send and receive emails with the agreement, but the emphasis remains on prohibiting widespread distribution of courtroom proceedings.
Attorneys at law firms throughout New Jersey say that they will greatly benefit from having access to court documents, laws, opinions and other necessary documents while in the courtroom. Being able to pull up this information on a smartphone means that lawyers may not need to bring their 3,000 page copies of the Rules of Court everywhere they go. They will also be able to remotely communicate with clients and offices via text message while in the courtroom.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we are always interested in updates that will make our work for you easier! We represent anyone who has been charged with a criminal act in New Jersey, and we will use every tool available to us. To get started on your defense, contact an HCK attorney today.