Rankin County Circuit Court gets electronic evidence presentation equipment

November 9, 2001

Rankin County Circuit Court is going high-tech with evidence presentation.

Jurors in a few days will be able to see evidence and documents displayed on a large screen. Audio and video evidence may be played on a VCR, a computer CD player or an audio cassette player, with all the equipment tied into a computerized system. Paper documents may be displayed on an image projection system. If lawyers wish to use laptop computers to aid their presentations, they can plug into the computerized courtroom system and display audio and visual materials.

Rankin County Circuit Judge Samac Richardson said, "The purpose is to help evidence to be presented in a better format and be easier to understand. I think it will give a more orderly presentation to the jury."

Circuit Judge William E. Chapman III said, "It makes for a more efficient process in the conduct of the trial. I think it brings the courtroom more into line with the everyday life of jurors in today's age of technology."

Rankin County Circuit Court is the first of five courts in the state to receive video evidence presentation equipment through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Courts in Jefferson, Harrison and Itawamba counties have also been selected to receive the evidence presentation systems. A fifth site has yet to be selected, said Kevin Lackey, acting director of the Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts.

The program is 75 percent federal dollars matched by 25 percent from the Administrative Office of Courts, Lackey said. The grant is administered by the state Department of Public Safety Division of Public Safety Planning.

The Rankin County system cost $36,995.22, said AOC Project Manager Morris Wynn. Jefferson Audio Video Systems Inc. of Louisville, Ky., is the vendor.

Richardson said the county is fortunate to get the benefit of the equipment without it costing the county taxpayers.

Richardson said Rankin County's central location in the state can also make the courtroom easily accessible to officials of other counties who might want to see a demonstration of the equipment.

While portable electronic presentation equipment has been used in the past in Rankin County Circuit Court, new courtroom equipment installed this week puts all the electronic features in a podium facing the judge with controls accessible from the podium and the judge's bench.

A paper flip chart sat in the corner of the courtroom with drawings scrawled in black marker ink. It may see little use in the future.

The new system will allow the witness on the stand to draw on electronically displayed photographs, charts or other material, and the lawyer at the podium to mark or highlight the display on screen. The system can produce a color print of the material with the additional markings. The print may be submitted into evidence and made part of the court record.

The judge will preview the material on a computer screen at the bench and decide whether to allow it to be displayed to the jury.

Richardson said the electronic evidence presentation system will make it easier for all jurors to see items such as documents, photographs or floor plans and correlate them with witnesses' testimony.

In the past, if a witness needed to draw on a document, the witness would usually be handed a colored marker. The witness would have to get into a position where all the jurors could see and hear. Markings on a photograph from a distance could be hard to see. A witness drawing on a chart would sometimes obstruct the view of the jurors.

Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr., a former Hinds County Circuit Court judge, was the first trial judge in the state to have a courtroom equipped for complete electronic evidence presentation. Graves, who began using the system in February 2000, said every trial in his court after that used the equipment to some extent.

The $75,000 Hinds County system was paid for by the Hinds County Law Library Committee with funds generated by a special assessment included in court filing fees.

Graves said the system speeded up evidence presentation and reduced paper shuffling.

"You could have your document burned onto a CD and instead of walking into the courtroom with three boxes, you could literally have three CDs," Graves said.

Before the equipment was available, if lawyers wanted jurors to see a document, they had to make enough copies for the jurors and alternates and distribute them, or they had to wait for every juror to pass around a single document. The equipment allows the lawyers to display an enlarged image of the document on a large screen.

"Clearly it's faster to show a picture of one document than to wait and pass it around to 13 people," Graves said.

Many lawyers, particularly those who try civil cases, already rely on computer-assisted trial presentations. They bring their own equipment to the courtroom.

Richardson recalled watching lawyers prepare for the trial of a civil case in Madison County Circuit Court a few days ago. "One of them had a van show up and they carried equipment into the courtroom for 30 minutes," Richardson said.

"Somebody said, 'Have you got an Elmo?' and the only Elmo I knew about was 'Tickle Me,' " Richardson said.

Elmo is a brand of computerized document storage and display system.

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigew Kraft, court public information officer, at 601-354-7452.

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