Florida courtrooms are seeing a rise in proposed amendments to current rules of court procedure, suggesting the use of real-time communication equipment that allows witnesses to be sworn in remotely. Recently, there has been an increase in confidence in the use of such equipment to take the testimony of witnesses who are located in other areas. With the necessary change in courtroom rules, it may be much easier to take deposition and trial testimony from remote witnesses.
Current Rules of Testifying
The rules that are currently implemented within the courtroom require an officer who is legally authorized to administer oaths and swear in witnesses while in their physical presence. As you can see, this can be quite an inconvenience since not every officer can be readily available to swear in witnesses who are in various locations. In an effort to eliminate this inconvenience, The Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee and Rules of Judicial Administration Committee are proposing the necessary changes to the Florida Rule of Civil Procedure and Florida Rule of Judicial Administration to eliminate the requirement of physical presence for a testimony. Now, with high-tech audio-visual communications equipment, witnesses can testify remotely.
While there are many benefits to testifying remotely, some believe that there could be a few issues and limits associated with it. For example, remote/screened testimony can cause a problem in balancing confrontation rights against state’s interest in protecting certain witnesses. However, by allowing witnesses to appear by phone, video conference, etc., it actually reduces helps both parties. Incessant needs for a large court staff won’t be as necessary while witnesses won’t have to worry about missing work, finding child care, transportation etc. This is especially true if expert witnesses currently reside in correctional institutions, hospitals, and mental health institutions; the costs of transportation and security from these institutions can be quite significant, but with remote testifying, it could be avoided.
Typically, deciding whether to allow remote appearances or not is done through traditional motions, service, answer, and oral argument processes. However, the costs associated with remote testimonies fall to the party that requests it. Many states leave it to the discretion of the judge to decide the nature of the case and if a remote testimony would be appropriate. Regardless, all jurisdictions always require prior notice and judicial approval of the remote testimony by the witness. With the refinement of real-time communication equipment, remote testimonies will become much more common in the coming years.
Brandon L. Fernandez is a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is an associate in the Lydecker Diaz’s Miami office. Mr. Fernandez’s practice includes all aspects of federal and state civil trial litigation with a primary focus in civil rights litigation, complex commercial litigation, government liability, law enforcement liability, labor & employment law, premises liability, and professional liability.