Cash-strapped communities are holding many more court appearances by video, reports the Associated Press. The savings can be staggering: $30 million in Pennsylvania so far, $600,000 in Georgia, and $50,000 per year in transportation costs in Ohio. “We’ve had to trim our spending wherever we can and still provide what we think is effective constitutional justice, and we’re doing that with the help of modern technology,” said Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille.
Advocates say the virtual hearing is easier on defendants, who don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to be shuttled with other suspects to court, only to wait hours standing and handcuffed for an appearance. Judges say cases are moving faster. Civil liberties groups say the practice raises no red flags. “The technology is really exploding. It’s gotten much cheaper and easier to run, and states are reporting a huge range of savings,” said Jim McMillan of the National Center for State Courts. A survey by the group found that video use has vastly increased in the past five years. Initial appearances, mental health hearings, and status conferences are among the most frequently conducted via video. Typically, a webcam or video camera is used in the courtroom, and a station is set up at the jail or detention center where suspects are held. Defendants go to a secure room and appear via a secure Internet connection.