Technology in the Court
Nov 17, 2010 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
State-of-the-art mock courtrooms demonstrate future courtroom technology.
Perry Mason would have little trouble finding his way around a 21st-century U.S. courtroom. Technology in most of them still tends to be comprised of basic AV systems, even as criminal justice moves deeper in new fields like DNA. But a template for the future can be found in Memphis, where the University of Memphis Law School needed a new home. A flooding basement and a flawed HVAC system, as well as major overcrowding problems, had plagued the school's existing plant for the previous decade. Fortunately, the school did not have to look far: The 125-year-old former U.S. Postal Service Customs House in downtown Memphis was the perfect fit. The school was able to acquire the historic structure in 2005 for a reported $5.3 million, but it would take another $42 million and nearly five years to bring it up to date, including the installation of what many would agree is the most state-of-the-art mock courtroom in the world—and one that will provide a template for future systems designs for American courtrooms.
From 1885, when the building opened, until 1963, the 140,000-square-foot facility—more than twice the size of the school's previous location—served as the federal courthouse and was the site of every major federal case in Memphis. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, with architectural credentials such as original brass window cages and hardwood paneling. In 1990, one of the courtrooms gained some cinematic recognition as the set for one of the more gruesome scenes in the film The Silence of the Lambs. Rechristened the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law as part of its new mission, five large classrooms with tiered floors and state-of-the-art AV/IT features were incorporated into a structural addition that had been put on in 1903, which is located in the center-rear section of the facility. Of those rooms, two stand out as the route that legal education is taking in the 21st century, with systems installed and integrated by Conference Technologies (CTI).
The historic mock courtroom is more heavily surveilled than Times Square. Four Sony EVI-HD1 PTZ high-definition cameras cover the room from several angles. Two are soffited in the large judge's bench that dominates the front part of the 43'x40' room. These are focused into the courtroom, with the two counsel tables in the foreground and the audience behind them. Another EVI-HD1 is positioned on the wall opposite the jury box; a fourth is mounted on the rear wall and provides an overview of the entire proceedings in the room. These are controlled with Sound Control Technologies RC2-DDS remote controllers. Lighting and motorized shade functions are also controlled from the judge's bench.
Audio is captured via Listen SW6000 conference management software and a DCS 6000 system that's similar to those used by the United Nations and other legislative bodies. Nine Listen DM 6060 microphones are placed at key locations in the room, including six for each position in the jury box and one each at the judge's bench and two counsel tables. A Sabine SGM14 gooseneck-mounted microphone is also positioned on the mobile podium between the bench and tables.
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