Monday, September 09, 2013

Banning cell phones in courthouses

The Globe yesterday reported on a growing trend in Massachusetts of courthouses imposing outright bans on the carrying of cell phones within the building (the ban does not apply to courthouse employees or lawyers).  Most of the courts mentioned in the article were District Courts which are busier and more crowded than the typical superior court.  The stated reason for the ban is to prevent people from taking photos or videos of witnesses, police officers, and prosecutors and then posting the images online in an attempt to intimidate these people.  When reading the article, however, it's apparent that some of the judges welcome the ban because of an inability to control the use of phones within courtrooms.

Coincidentally, this building is in the second week of a temporary ban on cell phones that was imposed by one of the judges due to a high profile murder trial that is underway, Commonwealth v Shelley, a long-unsolved case from the late 1960s.  The judge's concern for this case was no so much intimidation of witnesses but of great media interest that might motivate some to inadvertently disrupt proceedings.  Because of the ubiquitousness of cell phones in American life, this ban creates frequent confrontations at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the building.  Those with cell phones cannot "check" them at the entrance.  Instead, they have to leave them somewhere outside which, if one has a car in the vicinity, is only a minor inconvenience but if someone walked or got a ride here, it presents a real dilemma of where to put the phone.

Hopefully the ban in this building will end with the current trial since it creates a major inconvenience for many individuals doing business within the building.

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