Allowing cellphone use in Michigan courts a positive step
The Michigan Supreme Court should be applauded for its decision that cellphones and other electronic devices must be explicitly allowed in courthouses and courtrooms starting May 1, on the basis of equal access. As it currently stands, courthouses across Michigan have different standards and varying levels of access. Implementing uniformity levels the playing field.
Some opponents of the change say it would lead to disruptive buzzes and beeps,î or to jurors and witnesses being photographed or videoed, which could negatively impact a proceeding. Others point to decreased revenue for court offices that previously charged for making copies of court documents that could now be scanned on electronic devices.
This is an issue of equal access. And not being able to afford copies of court documents that might influence your case unfairly impacts those most in need, already under served populations with individuals often representing themselves.
Cellphones have become ubiquitous in society. People use them to access information, take notes and keep in contact with others. Allowing them in courthouses and courtrooms makes sense.
Restrictions remain to maintain order and protect privacy in the courts. They include:
— Not allowing devices to make noise;
— Not using devices to communicate with a courtroom participant;
— Not photographing or recording jurors or prospective jurors;
— Not photographing or recording court proceedings without a judge’s permission;
— Not photographing or recording a person outside a courtroom without that person’s permission.
Judges and court administrators should prepare now to address disruptions; an increase in accidental buzzes and beeps is only to be expected.
Clerks and municipal administrators will need to adjust their budgets to make up for fewer people making paper copies.
Sometimes, there’s a cost to doing what’s right. This is a small price to pay for increasing access to our courts and public records.