Cook County courts ban cell phones at criminal courthouses
Updated: December 11, 2012 6:02PM
In a move aimed at preventing gang members from intimidating witnesses and even potential jurors in criminal cases, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced the public will be banned from bringing everything from cell phones to iPads in to criminal courthouses.
Evans said in a prepared statement Tuesday that several judges who preside over court cases told him they were concerned “that people attending court proceedings were using their cell phones to photograph witnesses, judges, jurors, and prospective jurors. They also said persons appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting their turn to testify outside the courtroom, while others were attempting to stream live to media comments by judges from the bench.”
“The court is sending a strong message to gang members and others that any attempts to intimidate witnesses, jurors, and judges in court will not be permitted,” Evans said in his statement. “The ban will help to ensure that justice is properly done by preserving the integrity of testimony and maintaining court decorum.”
The ban will be in place at 13 court facilities where criminal cases are heard and begin Jan. 14.
Violators could be slapped with a contempt of court charge.
The Richard J. Daley court complex, where civil proceedings are largely heard, is exempt from an all-out ban, though the use of electronic devices will be restricted to public areas away from courtrooms.
Those visiting the courthouse on official business with approved identification will be allowed to bring in phones and other electronic devices, but will only be able to use them in public areas.
Others exempt from the ban include current or former judges; licensed attorneys, all law enforcement officers, all government employees, those called for jury duty — though jurors selected to serve on a panel would have to follow the order of the trial judge; building, maintenance and repair crews and any related outside vendor; and members of the news media.
Evans noted that after the “anticipated” approval of news cameras in Cook County’s courtrooms, news organizations will “be allowed to use their electronic devices in the courtroom.”
There is no ban on phones and other electronic devices in Cook County Circuit Court. But individual judges may set their own rules in their courtrooms.
Under the new policy, judges will still retain that autonomy and decide whether cell phones or any other electronic devices may be used in their courtroom.
Cell phones can be brought in to the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, though there are restrictions on their use inside courtrooms.
DuPage County bans any cell phone that has a camera -- virtually all cell phones these days.
Lake and McHenry County allows people to bring their phones inside their respective courthouses.