MCP Insights

Let MCP Help Your Justice Organization Embrace the Hybrid Hearings Concept

Posted on March 18, 2022 by Shay Cleary

Circumstances exist whereby it is prudent that certain participants in a court hearing are not required to appear at the courthouse. One example concerns those who are in custody awaiting a hearing or trial. A lot can go wrong when transporting a defendant to a courthouse. Further, the logistics are complicated, and the process is time-consuming. Consequently, many court systems have been allowing defendants to appear via closed-circuit television, and more recently via video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom.

Such a scenario is called a hybrid hearing, e.g., the proceeding is conducted in a courtroom and one or more participants are engaged remotely. This is not limited in today’s environment solely to prisoners. Witnesses may avoid physical appearances for purposes of protection. In the case of a violent crime, a victim’s family and friends might become emotional and prone to outbursts that would disrupt the proceeding, so a hybrid hearing often is in their best interests, as well as the court’s.

In addition, traveling to and from the courthouse for proceedings is a huge drain — both in terms of time and cost — for attorneys, who could participate in many more hearings if they were able to do so remotely. It works similarly for interpreters, medical experts, and any other professionals who routinely support court proceedings. That said, the current thinking regarding juries is mixed — it is thought that juries should be in the courtroom, but the hybrid approach makes sense for jury selection. The reality is that most people hate jury duty, try to avoid it, and often don’t appear when they are called. If they could perform their duty from the comfort of their homes or businesses, they would be much more likely to do so.

One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many court systems now have the ability to conduct hybrid hearings, but also have developed an inclination to do so out of necessity. Moreover, people generally have become much more comfortable with the notion of working remotely because the technology has improved dramatically, which is playing into the hybrid hearing concept. Jitter, latency, and reliability no longer are issues today largely because providers of video-conferencing platforms have invested great sums of money in their backend infrastructure.

Think of it this way — telemedicine has been available for quite a while, so if the remote-engagement concept works for the healthcare sector, it seems intuitive that it would work for court systems as well.

The benefits have been noteworthy. For instance, failure-to-appear rates have been reduced significantly. Also, lower-level cases that are not very complicated, such as those involving traffic offenses, easily can be processed via a hybrid hearing. Avoiding a physical appearance at a courthouse likely would prevent the accused from having to take time off work, which could cost them pay, and help them avoid logistical challenges, such as arranging for childcare. As a result, court systems from coast to coast are trying to figure out how they can take better advantage of this capability.

As with all things in life, the devil is in the details as it related to implementing a hybrid hearings capability. One challenge is that most courthouses in the United States were built a long time ago, so the layouts of their courtrooms might not be conducive to placing cameras where they need to be placed. There are other considerations:

  • Will the facility’s network connectivity support the application, i.e., is there enough bandwidth?
  • Is the electrical power sufficient to support the application?
  • Does the facility have the requisite type and number of jacks needed to plug in cameras, microphones, recorders, and everything else needed to support the application, and are they in the right places?
  • Does the facility have the audiovisual and information technology expertise needed to support the application?

MCP’s Facilities and Operations team is well-versed on all of these considerations and anything else that might emerge, and they are expert in technology procurement and project management. So, if you work for a justice organization that is contemplating a migration to hybrid hearings, or know of one that is, please reach out.

Shay Cleary is an MCP senior project manager. Email him at Shay

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