One of the busiest criminal court facilities in the country will soon lose something common to nearly every other courthouse: cell phones.
Starting Monday, the Cook County criminal courthouses begin their ban on electronic devices that include cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops and "all other electronic devices capable of connecting to the Internet or making audio or video recordings."
Despite criticism, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans is finally moving forward with the long-delayed ban for what he says are safety concerns. Evans told CBS Chicago cracking down on electronic devices minimizes the risk of witness intimidation and said he believes the ability for courthouse visitors to photograph or film testimonies has led to the murder of witnesses.
“Absolutely,” Evans said. “No question in my mind; and we have to stop it before it gets worse.”
The Tribune reports Evans said some judges had complained of courtroom spectators snapping photos or video of witnesses, jurors and judges; in other instances, courtroom visitors texted testimony to upcoming witnesses waiting outside.
Critics attacked the ban for being both light on specifics — Evans said the court didn't track such information on courthouse harassment or intimidation issues related to electronics — and setting the stage for logistical logjams and long security lines.
"I’m trying to prevent what could be a tragedy, and I’m trying to do it for justice’s sake," Evans said to his critics.
While courthouse visitors have been instructed for months to leave their electronics behind, the criminal courthouse at 26th and California now has a pair of cash-operated vending machine-style units that hold 70 cell phones each. The price-per-use is $3 a pop, and cell phone-toting visitors are out of luck once the space is maxed out.
Those exempt from the ban include, judges, lawyers, reporters, police officers, jurors and those seeking an order of protection, Fox Chicago reports. The Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago's Loop is largely exempted from the ban.
According to CBS, Chicago is the first major metro area to ban cell phones at courthouses, but cities around the country are starting to take notice. In Philadelphia, the idea of a similar ban surfaced as a possible way to curb witness intimidation.