MODEL POLICY FOR THE USE OF PORTABLE ELECTRONIC DEVICES IN COURTHOUSES AND COURTROOMS
I. Purpose of the Model Policy
The Supreme Court of Virginia recommends this Model Policy to the district courts and circuit courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia regarding the Use of Portable Electronic Devices in Courthouses and Courtrooms.
As defined in the Model Policy, portable electronic devices 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, ebook 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 Model 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, the Model 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 misuses of portable electronic devices include 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 Model 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 they 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. The Model Policy recognizes that notice of a court’s policy regarding the possession and use of portable electronic devices must be accessible and effective. The Model Policy also recognizes that any restrictions on possession or use of such devices should be accompanied by reasonable access to on-site storage for the devices.
After considering the interests of the judiciary, the users of the courthouses and courtrooms of the Commonwealth, and the sheriffs who are responsible for court security, the Supreme Court of Virginia approves and recommends the following Model Policy for consideration by the circuit courts and district courts of the Commonwealth.
II. MODEL POLICY
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 policies and procedures govern the possession and use of Portable Electronic Devices in the courthouse and in the 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, such as lobbies and hallways. 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 placed 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 recordings, 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 at 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 authorized, 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 Judges:
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) if 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.
3. 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 court’s local website (if any); at the courthouse entrance; and, in the Clerk’s Office.
4. 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 recommended as 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.