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Sorry bout that.
Out of all the characters in a courthouse drama, jury members are one of the most fascinating. They’re enormously influential on a trial, for obvious reasons, but trials can be enormously influential on them as well. After the explosive Casey Anthony case, for example, some jurors up and moved out of town, even after the judge declared a “cooling off” period before their names could be released to the public.
Joey Stipek, who will soon be interning with me at the Student Press Law Center, didn’t face such a controversial case. “I had no problem with the verdict,” he said. “We voted guilty and the whole process of deliberation was about 45 minutes.”
Stipek was charged, along with 11 of his peers, with judging an embezzlement case in his hometown of Brooklyn. “It was my first and only time in a courtroom,” he said.
Still, he said he felt like the lawyers sufficiently explained the charges and the case, so he wasn’t overwhelmed. As someone who has watched many times from the sidelines, I know a courtroom can be a bizarre environment – but that probably depends on the case, the lawyers, the judge – the other members of the courthouse dramatis personae.
I attended a session at the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Tech Showcase this week called “Greg’s Digital Dozen.” Greg Harper is a gadget guru and the founder of an awesome-looking annual event called Gadgetoff.
He had a several projections to impart: for one, the spiraling mobility of web access is going to make even typing URLs into a web browser a thing of the past. For another, “collision avoidance” systems, which can tighten your seatbelt and slam your brakes for you, might be required for all European vehicles starting soon.
A lot of these prophecies are plain scary. But I think my favorite speaks a lot to the current state of reporters, not just young ones. That was the second of Greg’s dozen trends in innovation, “wearable technology.”
During his presentation Harper was wearing Google glasses, a Pebble Watch, a Nike band, a Jawbone, another watch that checks you in to FourSquare, ski goggles, golf gloves, a cell phone glove and then I lost track.
“When I’m on an airplane and they tell me to turn off all electronics, do I turn off my watch, my glasses?” he said.
Last year, the Student Press Law Center’s Frank LoMonte gave me a great list of documents reporters can get from courthouses. This week, I came across more in a tipsheet for reporters digging up information via court records.
The tipsheet repeats the importance of acquiring the actual paper documents from a court house, rather than searching online. “Within the paper file, you may find significant filings that can include…”
- statements of the accused
- the indictment
- motions to suppress statements
- police reports
- FBI reports of interviews
- witness statements
- transcripts of pre-trial hearings
- forensic reports
- autopsy report
- grand jury transcripts
Now, not every case is going to provide all these things. On the other hand, I’ve never been interested enough in civil cases to actually go digging through them, but the tipsheet had another little protip: those cases can be good sources for things like business reports and financial info.
One year ago, I excitedly wrote that Missouri might be updating its rules on technology allowed in the courtroom. A committee within the Missouri Press-Bar Commission is preparing recommendations on this issue for the Missouri Supreme Court.
That’s the good news. The bad news? One year later, they’re still working on those recommendations.
“We are still studying the issue,” committee member Jean Maneke said. “These things always move very slowly.”
I couldn’t reach the Supreme Court’s communications counsel for comment.
Currently, no tweeting, typing or recording is allowed in courtrooms according to Missouri’s Court Operating Rule 16. One still camera, one video camera and one audio recording device is allowed with preapproval from the court’s media coordinator.
I guess in a society where technology moves like lightning and courts move like molasses, this is bound to happen. Let’s hope for better next year.
An amicus curiae is a “friend of the court” – a person, unrelated to the proceedings of a case, who submits information of their own volition. I’m just a friend of the curious. Go here for the whole amicus curious blog.
Happy 50th anniversary, public defenders! You don’t look a day over 40. Except actually, you do, because you’re constantly overworked and underfunded. You look like you could use some sleep and maybe a vacation.
Fifty years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled on one of its most significant cases ever: Gideon v. Wainwright. It might sound incredible, but before 1963, if people couldn’t hire a lawyer, they were left to defend themselves in court. It didn’t work out too well for them.
Now, the state hires lawyers for their poor residents. Not in federal cases, though. And not civil cases, either, just criminal ones. And only if they’re facing possible jail time for those cases. And even then, due to funding and staffing limitations, they might be spending months and months and months in jail before they actually see a lawyer.
But anyway, happy 50th, public defense system! You might be seeing some major changes this year, when the Supreme Court decides how long each state is required to keep paying someone’s defense.
P.S. The NYT celebrated by sharing their original article on the Gideon decision from 1963 on DocumentCloud.