Good news - the court system in Georgia has recognized that it's no longer 1985. "Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?" Congratulations, Georgia. It's 2018.
Rule 22 in Georgia dictates the protocols for audio and video recording in courtrooms. Now, this rule was written in 1985. And until recently, it has not been updated since 1985. This means that until it's recent amendment, we've been following a rule about technology in courtrooms that was written before digital recording devices, before laptops, before mobile phones - not to mention smart phones. Back then, Rule 22 was recognized as a model of how to encourage and support radio and television coverage of courtroom proceedings. It has long-been outdated. The amendment to Rule 22 includes these everyday technologies.
“Open courtrooms are an indispensable element of an effective and respected judicial system. It is the policy of Georgia's courts to promote access to and understanding of court proceedings not only by the participants in them but also by the general public and by news media who will report on the proceedings to the public. This must be done, however, while protecting the legal rights of the participants in the proceedings and ensuring appropriate security and decorum.” Rule 22.
The amended Rule 22 will go into effect on May 1 of this year.
Rule 22 provisions include the following:
- Jurors and witnesses must turn off any recording devices and may not record any proceedings.
- Parties can only utilize recording devices when authorized by the judge.
- Attorneys, paralegals, investigators, pro se litigants, and other support staff are permitted to make recordings as long as they announce that they're recording.
- Recording decisions are up to the judge dependent on their belief of whether or not it would be disruptive or distracting.
- Devices are permitted for accessing internet, texting, and word processing in silent mode.
- Members of the public, such as news media, must submit a request form to record proceedings.
The Rules Committee described the rule provisions as a multi-year process that has been aimed at achieving a balance of technology and media coverage advancement with legal rights and safety.
Gerry Weber, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said, “The new rule is a major improvement to adjust for the reality of cellphones, but the real proof of the rule's effectiveness going forward will be whether judges fully embrace the goal of transparency.”
This is true. And as a criminal attorney, I've always advocated openness in the courtroom. I'll be interested to see if judges embrace transparency. I do not believe that judges should wield the power of shutting people out of the courtroom.
When a courtroom is closed, it allows the judiciary to violate the rights of litigants, especially the un-represented poor. The ultimate check and balance on government is the camera. Judges and prosecutors are politicians. As a result, they are not beyond reproach. There is good and bad in all of us. Cameras shine the light on good judges and prosecutors and the bad ones as well. There is no higher percentage of good judges than there is good librarians, good teachers, good park rangers - the list goes on and on. If we are subjected to being recorded; the real question should be why aren't judges, too?
This amendment to Rule 22 is a step in the right direction, but more changes need to happen in order to move into a transparent judicial system in Georgia.
Contact a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer today for free case evaluation.
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