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How courts can better handle digital evidence

June 16, 2021

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, state courts started virtual hearings but that resulted in a corresponding challenge. How are courts to receive evidence in such virtual hearings? Digital evidence was not new, but the need to come up with ways to handle it, amid a pandemic, was key.

In June 2020 the Joint Technology Committee (JTC) released its Quick Response Bulletin: Managing Evidence for Virtual Hearings. JTC stated that “courts have unique needs that require thoughtful attention, particularly [as] to how evidence is submitted, stored and shared.” While creating or implementing tools for digital evidence, courts shall consider self-represented litigants (SRLs). They may require instructions and also a technology-equipped room at the courthouse. Courts also should consider that certain types of evidence cannot be digitized, so methods must be provided to allow that evidence to be submitted to the court as well. The integrity and security of submitted evidence must also be dealt with, along with other considerations such as privacy, file management, wet signatures, authentication formalities, and court records. Courts should move to make electronic records the court’s official record format.

The JTC Bulletin also provides recommendations on evidence workflow and information on platforms and mechanisms for sharing digital evidence. The Bulletin also reviews systems to manage evidence and exhibits, such as electronic filing systems, cloud storage, conferencing platforms, physical media, and email.

Recently, Arizona's judiciary established The Digital Evidence Center in partnership with with Thomson Reuters. The system is “a cloud-based platform that allows courts to facilitate virtual and hybrid hearings while providing all parties within a case the opportunity to organize and present documents, multimedia exhibits and evidence.” The program will start as a pilot in six courts to expand later.

California's judiciary is also working on a revision of court rules to adapt to virtual justice. The Judicial Council’s Information Technology Advisory Committee is working on “law-related proposals in the areas of information security, the use of vendors to store electronic evidence filed with the courts, video hearings and electronic evidence offered during video hearings, admissibility standards for digital evidence, and online dispute resolution processes.”

How is your court implementing technologies to improve the virtual hearings? Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences!

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.