Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Lee County to get electronic evidence presentation equipment

May 21, 2002

Lee County Circuit Court will get state-of-the-art electronic evidence presentation equipment in June. Equipment is expected to be installed in the second floor Circuit Court courtroom at the Lee County Justice Center in Tupelo during the week of June 17.

The equipment is intended to make evidence easier for jurors to understand and make evidence presentation quicker and more efficient.

Equipment and installation are expected to cost about $36,000, according to state Administrative Office of Courts Project Manager Morris Wynn. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs and the Administrative Office of Courts. AOC provides a 25 percent match to 75 percent federal dollars. The grant is administered by the state Department of Public Safety Division of Public Safety Planning.

Lee is the last of five counties to get the equipment. Jefferson Audio and Video Systems Inc. of Louisville, Ky., installed similar electronic evidence presentation systems in DeSoto, Harrison, Jefferson and Rankin counties.

With the new equipment, jurors will be able to see documents, photos and other evidence 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. Lawyers can plug their own computers into the courtroom system.

Circuit Court Administrator Charlotte Williams said, "It's going to make things easier for the attorneys, the court and the jurors because they will be able to see the exhibits so much better."

Senior Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III said, "I think this is going to simplify a lot of things and speed it up because we can display things for the viewing of the jury. It will eliminate a lot of this passing of paper around and that sort of thing."

Gardner said, "It's a good way to handle particularly documents or photographs that would have to be passed around and handled by everyone." With the electronic display system, "Everyone gets to see it at the same time and it simply minimizes distractions." Gardner said evidence presentation will be "kind of like watching TV. You can see it and hear it at the same time and you don't have to be concerned about the handling of the exhibits."

Gardner said that after local attorneys have an opportunity to become familiar with the equipment, using it won't be an option. He will expect everyone to present evidence using the system. The court is expected to schedule several training sessions. If out of town attorneys come to court, "We'll certainly give them a crash course if necessary," Gardner said.

"I'm going to have to learn like everyone else," said Gardner.

Lee County Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin said some attorneys in the past have brought in their own equipment. There have been occasions when she opened the courtroom on Saturday to allow them to set up and be ready for a Monday trial.

Loftin said Lee County Circuit Court's busy trial docket will benefit from equipment that will improve efficiency. "We are such a large county and we hear so many cases here, both civil and criminal. We have four five-week terms of court for criminal cases. Most civil cases are set out of term," Loftin said.

Loftin said the new equipment will be of maximum benefit in complex cases such as medical malpractice lawsuits. She said there were approximately 3,000 exhibits in a recent medical malpractice case tried in Tupelo.