Last week, I wrote about the very beginning of our use of interactive television to conduct court hearings. Since those early days, hardly a week goes by when I do not conduct a bail hearing or other matter over ITV.
We have conducted dozens of review hearings for persons in state hospitals by ITV. Children who have been placed out of home are able to participate by ITV without having to travel hours each way by unmarked squad car. (We will appoint an attorney at the person’s location to sit with him or her, while the original attorney is in Gaylord so that the person can consult with counsel immediately and at the same time have the original attorney present who is well aware of the history of the case.)
A side benefit is that often family members will appear at the Courthouse to observe or participate in the hearing. If there are a few minutes before the next hearing is to be called (or sometimes, even if there are not), the Court staff will leave the courtroom and allow the family a little time to visit.
The most unique use of the ITV equipment, however, came at the end of a very sad case. A sixteen-year-old girl from Spain came to our community as a foreign exchange student. The father of her host family was alleged to have sexually molested her. She and her parents returned from Spain so that the victim could testify at the trial. The host family father was found guilty by the jury and a sentencing hearing was set for several weeks later.
The victim and her parents had neither the time nor the money to come back to Minnesota for the sentencing hearing, though they were most interested to learn what happened. The Sibley County Attorney’s Victim / Witness Coordinator and the Court Administrator were able to arrange for an interactive television connection between the Courthouse in Gaylord and a government office in Madrid, Spain. The sentencing hearing was scheduled at 9:00 a.m. Minnesota time to accommodate an eight hour time difference with Spain.
Court staff tested the system the day before, and the hearing went off flawlessly. The video was crystal clear and the audio was perfect – not even the delay that we sometimes see when the network anchorman talks to the foreign correspondent on television.
The victim and her family were able to observe and to participate (though they declined to make a statement) at the sentencing hearing. We were most pleased and proud that we were able to make that happen!
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Next week: Home for the Holidays