Rejoice! The Court of Appeals of Maryland today (October 20, 2010) approved a new Maryland Rule (16-110) that provides a uniform policy on "electronic devices" (e.g., cell phones, cameras, computers...).
The new Rule promises to remove some of the guesswork people face when they're headed to court.
Presently, basically every court in the state has different rules for whether and what kinds of electronic devices are allowed. In many cases, the policy is not well publicized and people are left to wonder. This can be very bad if you are getting to court right on time and get blindsided by the deputy at the door who refuses to let in with your $400 cell phone. Most courts won't just hold them for you, so you have to find a safe place outside. In my case, that would be a 6-8 minute walk back to my office in Hagerstown. In PG County, if you park in the lot down by the race track, then it might take you 20 minutes to secure your phone and get back to Court.
Thankfully, being an attorney, I flash my bar association ID and skip right on through the metal detector undisturbed - but not always. In the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County (ironically, the county that actually issued my badge), I still have to remove my belt, but they will let me bring in my cell phone.
My favorite policy I have seen is that in place in the District Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County. They allow everybody to bring in their cell phones, and if they go off in court, the bailiff confiscates the phone and will not give it back until the offender pays the cashier 50 bucks and produces a receipt to the judge. I've seen this happen on multiple occasions.
I have long been disturbed by the disparate policies and more so by those particular courts that prohibit the existence of an electronic device within their walls, especially for lay-people (you know, the people whose rights are actually being adjudicated or those sacrificing their time to be witnesses...i.e., the whole reason the courts exist in the first place).
For example, I was in Circuit Court in Howard County last month and a lady was contesting a speeding ticket. She had taken pictures of the scene of the incident and brought her digital camera with her to court. She put the camera in her purse and put it through the metal detector belt to be inspected by the deputies when she entered. They made no objections. While on trial, she pulled out her camera, and the bailiff immediately confiscated it and showed it to the judge. The judge chastised the lady and told her no cameras were permitted in court. She explained that she only had it here because she needed to show pictures of the scene. Sure, it would have been much smarter to print out the pictures, but it's really unreasonable to have such paranoia over the mere existence of an electronic device in a courtroom. Ultimately, the judge did the right thing and allowed the lady to present the photographs and use them to cross-examine the state trooper.
It has been my desire for some time that a reasonable uniform rule would be adopted. The Court of Appeals has made the right call, in my opinion.
With the adoption of Rule 16-110, everyone will be able to bring any electronic device into any court. You will be specifically allowed to use the phone in the court house (not in the courtroom) but not to take pictures or record video or audio. Generally, no use will be permitted at all while you're actually in the courtroom. So, no tweeting "This is soo boring, I hope my case gets called next" or sending facebook friend requests to the judge while in court.
Attorneys and those who work for them will be able to actually use their computers and smartphones in the courtroom while their case is currently being heard.
Naturally, exceptions are built into the new rule to accommodate special circumstances which might require more restrictive rules on a case-by-case basis.
In making their recommendation to the Court of Appeals, the Rules Committee concluded that:
(1) these devices, particularly cell phones and their progeny, have become so commonplace and are so routinely carried and relied upon that it would be a huge inconvenience to prohibit the public from bringing them into court facilities;
(2) drawing distinctions between those who may bring such devices into the courthouse – court officials and employees, officials and employees of other agencies occupying the courthouse, attorneys, jurors, law enforcement personnel – and everyone else is not advisable;
(3) to the extent these devices present a security issue, which they may, the courts in which that issue is likely the most serious have concluded that it may be dealt with by regulating the use of the devices rather than prohibiting them altogether; and
(4) there is no substantial justification for having different policies from county to county or between the Circuit Court and the District Count in the same county.
This is good news for everybody connected with the Courts in Maryland. Because of this change, you will be able to fare forth to court with your iPhone in your pocket. Just don't forget to turn it off when you get into court. Oh, and take that stupid bluetooth off your ear.