[Excerpt] “When there is mention of a legal trial, a certain picture naturally comes to mind. One sees a judge in his black robe sitting on a raised bench. Lawyers are stationed at tables on either side of the courtroom, prepared to present their arguments to the court. A jury box may sit off to the side, holding a cross-section of citizens culled from the population to perform their ancient duty. The courtroom is made of fine wood and polished marble, and it is adorned with the accouterments of justice—American flags, seals, paintings of honored jurists—which let an observer know that he sits in a hall where important decisions are made and grave judgments are rendered.
Many people may be surprised to witness an immigration hearing in present-day America, where important decisions are also made and grave judgments are also rendered, but which has an altogether different and less impressive appearance. Observers are likely to see a small room located deep within a large federal building, with two tables perpendicular to one another, connected to form a right angle. A lawyer sits at each table, one representing the government and the other an alien. A row of chairs, behind these tables and against the walls, seat the family and friends of the alien. On the other side of the room, in view of the advocates and observers, is a television screen with a camera on top. This screen shows the judge on one side, who may be located in another state, and the alien on the other side, who is seated in a detention center in a third location.
As courts struggle to balance large caseloads and limited resources, they have increasingly turned to technological solutions. Videoconferencing, in particular, has become a popular tool in judicial proceedings in the last decade. It has found its way into state, federal, and administrative courts. In 1996, Congress allowed videoconferencing in immigration removal proceedings, and the Department of Homeland Security has steadily expanded the number of such proceedings conducted remotely through videoconferencing technology. The government believes that these proceedings are more efficient, less time-consuming, and more secure than traditional in-person hearings.
Part II of this article surveys the growing use of videoconferencing technology in American courts, including immigration proceedings. Part III examines the problems raised by the use of this new technology in the courtroom, specifically with regard to its impact on communication between the respondent and the judge. Next, Part IV shows how these problems violate the detainee’s fundamental rights to presence, confrontation, and counsel. Finally, Part V presents recommendations to mitigate these problems while still taking advantage of new technology. Part V also provides examples of effective uses of videoconferencing.
[…] When we bring new technology into the courtroom in the name of efficiency, we must be careful to examine its impact on the legal process and the administration of justice. Videoconferencing technology has greatly expanded in immigration hearings in recent years, with little consideration into its larger systemic impact. This article attempts to correct that imbalance by raising questions about a quiet revolution occurring in immigration hearings, and by encouraging others to look more carefully at how our system of justice is evolving in surprising and perhaps unintended ways.
Aaron Haas, Videoconferencing in Immigration Proceedings, 5 Pierce L. Rev. 59 (2006), available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol5/iss1/5