How effective can court reporters be without access to high-functioning audio devices?
Low-quality audio recordings have been making it difficult for court reporters to accurately transcribe court proceedings for the Tennessee’s Carter County Sessions Court. As a result, some defense attorneys speculate that preliminary hearings may have been compromised, thereby negatively impacting their clients’ fates.
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Since preliminary hearings ultimately determine whether a judge finds reasonable cause for a trial, faulty court reporting could mean the difference between prison sentences and freedom for some defendants.
According to WJHL News, back in November 2015 defense attorneys Steve Finney and Jim Bowman both filed motions on the same day to request new preliminary hearings for their clients, citing inaudible recordings. Both clients were facing murder accusations in high-profile cases at that time.
A judge presiding over Bowman’s case had likewise expressed apprehension over the court’s weak audio equipment.
Court reporters eventually manipulated the audio recordings using enhancement technology, which resulted in successful transcriptions. However, judges and attorneys alike continued to seek a better, more permanent, solution.
Good news arrived in February 2015 when the Carter County Commission approved a motion to use budget funds to cover $47,000 in courtroom renovation costs. Despite the windfall, the audio issue still hadn’t been rectified nearly 18 months later. At that point, the local media didn’t just take notice; it took action.
WJHL News reported that on June 9, 2016 the station began asking Carter County General Sessions Judge Keith Bowers and other elected officials why the audio recording matter hadn’t been resolved. The very next day, Bowers signed off on a BIS Digital contract to conclusively end the dilemma.
The total cost of the courtroom audio makeover is expected to cost more than $14,000.