Imagine some of the greatest trials of the century. You know of them because, of course, the media would have covered them and presented them to you as snippets, summarizing the main events for public consumption.
But what if you need an accurate, verbatim record of the trial’s day-to-day proceedings? This is usually the case for judges, lawyers, clerks, and sometimes even law students, who need to read up on a case, or even review a case they are currently a part of.
The only reason they are able to do this is because of court reporters, who are sometimes called guardians of the court. Court reporters provide an accurate record of what was said during the proceedings. This is critical because court proceedings contain evidence, testimony, and complex legal arguments that someone may one day need to return to do academic research or even appeal someone’s sentence.
Given the far-reaching consequences of decisions made in court, the court reporter is an important part of the process. You may one day need a court reporter’s help to:
Differentiate between different voices if they overlap
Things can become heated during a court case and you may find lawyers talking across each other, or talking at the same time as the witness. Even though there are several types of voice-to-text technologies used in courts these days, they don’t always accurately translate what was heard, leaving gaps in the record. A human ear still works best to be able to pick apart what was said and who it was said by. This is where the court reporter comes in.
Voice-to-text programs are also notoriously unreliable depending on the accent and speed the person is speaking at.
Provide real-time reporting of events at a trial
Most courts are equipped with video and/or audio recording equipment. Occasionally, they may need to be stopped, either because of the nature of the evidence or testimony being presented, on the orders of the judge, or simply because of technical issues. The court reporter keeps on transcribing the proceedings making sure that nothing is lost to posterity.
Provide language translation services
Most members of the public may not be aware that court reporters are usually multilingual. Many of them are used to delivering accurate transcripts of court proceedings in different languages.
More importantly, because they are familiar with legal terminology, they are aware of what words will work best as specific translations since an exact sense of a word’s meaning is important in court proceedings. Mistranslation may result in lost cases or overturned judgments.
Help the hearing impaired follow court proceedings
The work of court reporters is invaluable to persons with hearing impairments. Court reporters provide a written record of the presented testimony and evidence, allowing them to follow along.
However, this is not the only place where their work has value. If you’ve ever seen close captioning on TV or at a live event like a ball game or concert, you can thank a court reporter.
Provide individual parties with an accurate record of proceedings
Sometimes, the parties involved in a court proceeding may decide to have their own individual court reporters present, independently of the court. There could be several reasons for this, but these services are usually provided by freelance or company-contracted court reporters.
The machinery court reporters use can be connected to a laptop, allowing everyone from lawyers, to witness, to the jury, to judge, to have access to a real-time accurate representation of the proceedings. This is especially important when the court proceedings are virtual.
According to the Marshall Project,
In Connecticut, which uses audio recordings, transcript revisions are rare. Only 30 of the 17,000 transcripts requested last year were challenged for a discrepancy between the written record and the audio recording.
The project goes on to state that when these 30 transcripts were tested against the audio recordings, only 13 were found to have errors. Imagine the accuracy and speed the average court reporter would have to be performing at to only have 13 transcripts challenged out of 17,000. This example alone should convince you of the value of a human court reporter versus recording technology in proceedings.
So, the next time you are tempted to dismiss the court reporter as irrelevant in an age with so much technology, consider the points made here. The court reporter continues to be the premier standard of recording in court proceedings.