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Courts' Use of Conferencing Challenged

February 21, 2017

All over the world, the use of video conferencing systems in courtrooms has become an increasingly popular practice. Leveraging video conferencing systems saves money for the government, as it is no longer responsible for the transport, care, and security of inmates when they are appearing in court. However, in the state of Florida, this practice has been challenged by advocacy groups like Disability Health Florida, who argue that this technology does not fairly represent individuals with mental health disorders. Earlier this month, the group was successful in getting a temporary ban from the Florida Supreme Court that prohibits using this technology in cases involving mental health disorders.

“Video conferencing will impair a judge's ability to observe demeanor, which could be central to the fact-finding process,” Disability Rights Florida attorney Peter Prescott Sleasman argued in its court filing. The basis for the claim is that those with mental health disorders often struggle at communicating in the same way that healthy adults do, and that smaller aspects of their demeanor are thus much more telling. Sleasman, and other Florida advocacy groups, believes that video conferencing services do not accurately capture all of these minutias, and that the only fair way for judges to observe those with mental health issues is by being there in person.

It seems that the courts are going to need a way to reconcile this issue sooner rather than later, as government officials are extremely happy about the cost reduction benefits they are seeing from leveraging video conferencing services. “The technology pays for itself fairly quickly in the cost savings, the mileage on the vehicles, the tires, the gas, the oil, the maintenance, the staff time to drive over there, drive back, and so on,” said Kurtis Jacobs, a district court administrator in an interview.

As video conferencing services become more adept at making it seem like the conversants are in the same room, this is a problem that will pop up with less frequency. In the meantime, the court system will have to continue to walk the line between convenience and fairness as it looks to reap the benefits from leveraging these conferencing services.

Edited by Alicia Young

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