Resources on Courtroom Technology
Videoconferencing / Appeals
Videoconferencing / Criminal
Videoconferencing in the Courts of Appeals
Videoconferencing technology permits live, multi-way audio and visual transmission between a remote site and a court. With it, court proceedings can be conducted without the presence of all participants at a single location. In the federal courts, videoconferencing has become increasingly common, and has been used in first appearances, arraignments and sentencing. Videoconferencing is also used in appellate courts to present oral arguments and to assist with collaborative jud
ging. Another part of the Center's courtroom technology project is a study of the use of videoconferencing in the courts of appeals to inform the courts about the effectiveness of appellate videoconferencing, and the extent of any perceived problems. See
Report of a Survey of Videoconferencing in the Courts of Appeals
(PDF, 22 pp.).
Several courts of appeals have established programs by which oral arguments are presented via videoconferencing. In those courts, the attorneys generally appear remotely while the judges convene in their home courtroom; occasionally, however, attorneys may appear in court in front of fewer than three judges, with the remaining judges appearing remotely. The ability to appear remotely (either as a judge or an attorney) saves considerable travel time (particularly in circuits encompassing vast areas), and allows for more flexibility and speedier case processing.
Several judges who have used videoconferencing for appellate arguments have reported that videoconferencing may interfere with the exchange between the judge and attorney necessary to elicit critical information regarding the appeal. Because each side has only a limited time to present its case (between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the circuit), the ability to get quickly to the crux of the matter is crucial. If videoconferencing impedes that process and hinders the ability of the court to understand the case at hand, the use of the technology may need to be adjusted to accommodate these problems.
This project will identify the benefits and drawbacks to using videoconferencing for appellate argument, determine whether the technology's advantages outweigh its disadvantages, and suggest ways in which the use of the technology may be improved to better suit the needs of the court. The primary methodology will be a comparison of transcripts of oral arguments held via videoconference with transcripts of oral arguments held in the traditional manner (i.e., all participants in the same courtroom).
In addition to using videoconferencing for oral arguments, some appellate judges have used the technology to discuss and dispose of cases that are not scheduled for oral argument. Judges in different locations within the circuit can meet via videoconferencing, thereby saving time and money. One circuit conducted a yearlong pilot program in which a panel of three judges met weekly to dispose of cases that were not orally argued. Instead of the previous round-robin format, in which one judge wrote an opinion, sent it to the second judge for comments, and then sent the revised opinion to the third judge, the videoconferencing option allowed back and forth discussion. The arrangement reduced Federal Express fees and helped clear the panel's summary calendar in a timely fashion.
In this project, we will examine the use of videoconferencing for similar processes, and identify the ways in which the technology may help or hinder such discussions. By applying research regarding the importance of group dynamics in collaborative decision-making, the quality of video-conferenced discussions among appellate judges might be improved. Additionally, studying how technology can facilitate appellate decision-making on the briefs might provide information relevant to other types of legal proceedings (e.g., mediation, pretrial and settlement conferences).