Policy on Electronic Devices at Sussex County Courthouse
I. PURPOSE OF THE POLICY
The Supreme Court of Virginia recommends policy to the district courts and circuit courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia regarding the use of portable electronic devices in Courthouses and Courtrooms. The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office has adopted this policy as of May 6, 2021.
As defined in this policy, portable electronic devices include personal computers, tablet computers, mobile telephones (including cell phone and any form of telephone with cameras and audio and recording and transmission capabilities), electronic calendars, e-book readers, and “smart” watches.
The use of portable electronic devices in our society has increased dramatically, and many users see these devices as a necessary incident to their personal and working lives. People rely on these devices for purposes ranging from organizational or data storage activities to ensuring personal security. Appropriate use at the courthouse will allow people to access information for presentation to the court, and it will allow people to transact other necessary business. Inappropriate use can be a danger, cause distractions, and demean the order and processes of the court. The purpose of this policy is to recommend a policy that respects the interests and needs of the people who enter the courthouses and courtrooms of the Commonwealth.
Policies barring portable electronic devices may prevent self-represented litigants or other court users from effectively presenting evidence in their cases, successfully accessing court resources or information, or communicating with others while in the courthouse. By authorizing the possession and use of portable electronic devices in courthouses for evidentiary and other legitimate purposes, this policy improves access to justice and judicial efficiency by establishing known processes and procedures.
The use and possible misuse of portable electronic devices present legitimate security concerns. Weapons can be disguised as portable electronic devices. Possible misuse of portable electronic devices includes the unauthorized creation of video and audio recordings that can be posted on social media or in other public forums; unauthorized communication with jurors or witnesses; and, threats and intimidation directed towards parties, witnesses, jurors, or other people. Every person who enters a Virginia courthouse must be protected from such dangers and behavior. Additionally, the use and misuse of portable electronic devices can cause either intentional or unintentional disruptions in the order and processes of the courts. The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office policy recognizes the need to maintain security, safety, and order in the courts of the Commonwealth.
It is important for all users of the courts and court facilities to know whether that can bring portable electronic devices into courthouses, and whether they can use them in courtrooms in appropriate circumstances. When court users and members of the public carrying portable electronic devices are denied entry to a courthouse without reasonable prior notice that their devices are not permitted in the courthouse or courtroom, they may experience great inconvenience. They sometimes must store their portable electronic devices in unsecured locations, risking the loss of the devices and the information that the devices contain. This policy recognizes that notice of a court’s policy regarding the possession and use of portable electronic devices must be accessible and effective. This policy also recognizes that nay restriction on possession or use of such devices should be accompanied by reasonable access to on-site storage for the devices.
1. Definition of “Portable Electronic Device”
The term “Portable Electronic Device” is defined to include personal computers, tablet computers, mobile telephones (including cell phones and any form of telephone with cameras and audio and video recording and transmission capabilities), electronic calendars, e-book readers, and “smart” watches.
2. Possession and Use of Portable Electronic Devices
The following polices and procedure govern the possession and use of portable electronic devices in the courthouse and courtroom.
A. In the Courthouse:
Portable electronic devices are allowed in the courthouse subject to security screening, including courthouse screening devices, and the following rules:
1. Court visitors may use portable electronic devices in the common areas of the courthouse, areas such as the front entrance of the court. Further restrictions, including restricting mobile telephone conversations to designated areas, may be imposed as needed to maintain safety, security, proper behavior, order, and the administration of justice. All portable electronic devices must be places in a silent mode, such as vibrate, at all times within the courthouse.
2. Using portable electronic devices to take photographs, make audio or video recording, or to transmit live audio or video streaming is prohibited except with prior written authorization by a Judge of the Circuit or District Court.
3. Other electronic devices: cameras, video cameras, video recording equipment and recording devices (“other electronic devices”) not classified as portable electronic devices are not allowed in the courthouse except for use a t events such as investitures ceremonies and weddings. Other electronic devices may be allowed in the courthouse with prior written authorization by a Judge of the Circuit or District Court.
B. In the Courtroom
Portable electronic devices shall not be brought into or used in the courtroom without authorization from the presiding judge. A presiding judge may authorize the possession and use of portable electronic devices in the courtroom and may impose restrictions on such possession and use. If the possession of portable electronic devices in the courtroom is authorizes, they must remain silent at all times. They shall only be used for the purposes and in the manner authorized by the presiding judge. Photography, video recording, audio recording, or video transmission or communication of any information using any media from inside the courtroom is prohibited without prior written authorization of the presiding judge.
C. Confiscation of Equipment and Ejection of User
Any person using a portable electronic device in violation of this or any other court order or policy may be removed from the courthouse, found in contempt of court, and subject to penalties as provided by law. Any portable electronic device used in violation of this or any other court order or policy may be confiscated, and the Sheriff shall not be responsible or liable for any damage to or loss of a confiscated device.
D. Further Limitations by Judge
A judge may further limit or ban the possession or use of any portable electronic device:
(1) Pursuant to Virginia Code 19.2-266 (to regulate media coverage of judicial proceedings);
(2) Is possession or use of the portable electronic device may or does interfere with the administration of justice or cause any threat to safety or security; or (3) for any other reason.
E. Posting Notice of this Policy
The policy of each court regarding the possession and use of portable electronic devices shall be posted on the court’s home page on the Virginia Judicial System website; on the courts local website (if any); at the courthouse entrance; and, in the Clerk’s Office.
F. Storage of Portable Electronic Devices
If the possession of portable electronic devices in the courtroom is prohibited or restricted, then storage for the devices shall be provided at the security entrance to the courthouse for anyone who is not allowed to bring their devices into the courtroom. Storage locker units are the means for storing the devices. Other forms of on-site storage may be provided. Storage of devices may be limited to persons who represent to security personnel that they have no other means of storage available to them, such as a vehicle parked on or near the courthouse premises.