A recent recommendation from the Virginia Supreme Court that would allow electronic devices in courthouses will not be followed in Chesterfield, but a couple of proactive steps have already been made, county officials said.
In a press release dated Dec. 14, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons said that he and his fellow justices adopted a “model policy” for use in courthouses across the state.
The policy recommends that portable electronic devices – including cell phones, personal computers, tablets, e-book readers and smart watches – be allowed in courthouses, subject to screening and other rules. The policy also states that portable electronic devices would not be allowed in a courtroom without the approval of the presiding judge.
Under the recommendation, portable electronic devices could be used in hallways and lobbies and would be prohibited from making audio or video recordings or transmitting live audio or video.
In making the recommendation, the Supreme Court justices recognized that the use of electronic devices has increased dramatically over the years, and many users rely on them for organizational and data storage purposes.
“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,” the policy states. “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 Chesterfield County Courthouse at 9500 Courthouse Road – which houses the general district and circuit courts – and the adjacent Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, 7000 Lucy Corr Blvd., allow cell phones that are needed for evidentiary purposes. Sheriff Karl Leonard and Circuit Court clerk Wendy Hughes said that cell phones that contain evidence which will be needed in court will be taken by a sheriff’s deputy and given to the appropriate clerk for use during the court proceeding.
“They simply have to advise the [sheriff’s] deputy at the entrance when they come in, the deputy takes the device and turns it into the clerk of the courtroom the case is being heard in, and when the case is called the device is handed to the individual to use in their case and then returned to them when they leave the courthouse,” Leonard said in an email.
He said the policy on allowing cell phones for evidentiary purposes “has been the policy for a long time already.”
Leonard noted that storage boxes were installed outside the courthouse in 2016 for those who do not have a vehicle or place to store them before coming into the courthouse. Storage lockers have been ordered and are planned for outside the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, he said.
Leonard noted that the chief judges of the Circuit and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts – Timothy J. Hauler and Scott David Landry – decide the policies for their respective courts.