LUMBERTON — Robeson County Courthouse goers can expect to see a change in policy regarding the use of electronic devices.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James Gregory Bell and Chief District Court Judge Angelica Chavis McIntyre, along with County Manager Kellie Blue, recently reached an agreement in principle to update the electronic device policy at the Robeson County Courthouse effective March 1 to address issues with continued use .
Currently, all visitors are allowed to bring cell phones, tablets and other recording devices into the Robeson County Courthouse despite policies banning such devices throughout other courthouses in North Carolina, according to a release from the District Court office. For years, despite these other county and federal courts banning recording devices, Robeson County allowed individuals to enter the courthouse with phones with the understanding that the devices would not interrupt court proceedings.
“However, recently, numerous victims and witnesses have been recorded and threatened by organized crime and violent repeat offenders and their friends and families via persons using cell phones and recording devices to intimidate, harass, and obstruct justice in the courtroom,” the release continued . “This repeated and rampant activity is a clear and present danger to our county, to our judicial officials, and to the public.”
According to the release, judges, law enforcement and court officials are “deeply concerned” about threats being used to keep domestic violence victims and victims of violent crime from testifying.
“Jurors may also be victims of threats or intimidation when their images are captured on recording devices while they’re fulfilling their civic duties,” the release continues.
Additionally, confidential proceedings, like those involving juveniles are often being compromised in violation of federal and state law because of cell phones and other devices that are used in attempts to intimidate victims or witnesses.
Also, court proceedings are “consistently being routinely interrupted due to electronic distractions.”
Court officials have agreed and are now working on a detailed policy to address these issues which will be updated in due course. Exceptions will be made for cell phone and other device use in the event evidence is needed from a phone during a proceeding or a legitimate need is shown to a court official.
“Everyone in our county deserves justice and the right to be free from intimidation in testifying,” Judge McIntyre said. “We are excited to bring Robeson County up to date with common sense rules and policies that are in effect throughout our state that reflect current realities and technology, and we will not stand by and allow our courts to be places where victims are subject to threats and intimidation. We also want our courts to be as transparent as possible. That is why we are taking time to get this policy right.”