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Courts nationwide hold hearings with video

•  Legal Business     updated  2011/05/09 09:05

George Villanueva, charged with first-degree murder in the death of an NYPD officer, will not leave jail for months of pretrial hearings.

Instead, he'll be beamed into the courtroom via video as lawyers discuss his case in front of the judge.

Villanueva's case is part of a surge in court appearances done by video in New York and around the country, as cash-strapped communities look for ways to boost efficiency and cut costs. The tools are used in courts large and small, and the savings for some are staggering: $30 million in Pennsylvania so far, $600,000 in Georgia, and $50,000 per year in transportation costs in Ohio.

"We've had to trim our spending wherever we can and still provide what we think is effective constitutional justice, and we're doing that with the help of modern technology," said Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille.

Advocates say the virtual hearing is easier on defendants, who don't have to get up at 4 a.m. to be shuttled with other criminal suspects to court, only to wait hours standing and handcuffed for an appearance. Judges say their cases are moving faster. And civil liberties groups say the practice raises no red flags.


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