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Chicago Appleseed and Chicago Council of Lawyers gave testimony at an Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee Public Hearing yesterday, contributing to a discussion of the merits and drawbacks of conducting criminal proceedings via video. The Committee studies proposed rules and makes recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court. 

Proposal 12-01 creates a rule permitting a criminal defendant to appear in many different proceedings via closed circuit television and videoconference. These proceedings include waiver of preliminary hearing, waiver of counsel, and submission of guilty pleas.
All of the speakers from Cook County opposed videoconferencing’s use here in Chicago. Cook County conducted bond hearings via closed circuit television from 1999 to 2008, when Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans terminated the practice, citing frequent technological and other failures (such as mis-identification of defendants). The elimination of video bond hearings was among recommendations in our 2007 Report on Cook County Felony Courts. The practice was also the subject of pending litigation. 

Only one speaker voice strong support for the rule. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin explains (subscription required):  

Brian J. Towne, LaSalle County state’s attorney and second vice president of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, told the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee reasons to support the proposal include advances in technology and elimination of the cost of transporting prisoners.

In LaSalle County, sheriff’s deputies sometimes transport inmates six to eight hours round-trip to court status hearings.

Such trips could be avoided by using closed-circuit television appearances, he said.” 

No cost-benefit analysis has been conducted to assess the financial impact of videoconferenced hearing. Some speakers, including Darryl Goldberg on behalf of the Chicago Bar Association’s Criminal Law Committee, argued that any savings would be negated by additional continuances caused by videoconferencing. As we explained in our written testimony: 

“Because hearings happen frequently and are often brief, videoconferencing may seem to be an ideal way to avoid unnecessary and costly in-person appearances. However, in-person appearances are in fact essential to effective representation. In-person hearings also save time and resources by limiting the need for multiple appearances.


For example, unexpected plea offers are often made during something as preliminary and routine as a status hearing. Defense counsel will often deliberate privately with the client and accept or decline the offer right then. Such critical, confidential exchanges cannot take place via video. If unable to discuss an offer, the parties miss the opportunity to resolve the case, and the defendant will be detained until the next hearing date.”

Several Committee members inquired as to the need for a “stakeholder committee” of how to develop a rule that balances the interests of justice and economy. Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers agree that further research is needed, and would be glad to serve on such a committee. 

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