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2007-01-10-01 The Supreme Court of South Carolina

The Supreme Court of South Carolina


RE: Videoconferencing Approval in the Family Court Statewide

I FIND THAT the use of videoconferencing enhances the efficiency and security in courtroom proceedings, while maintaining the constitutional rights of the defendants. The purpose of this Order is to set forth procedures to be used in the Family Courts of this State for the purpose of hearing bench warrants, South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) cases limited to emergency protective custody pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-610, intervention hearings, status review hearings, and permanency planning hearings when the Defendant is not present in the Courtroom, but will appear at the hearing by videoconference. Pursuant to the provisions of Section 4, Article V, South Carolina Constitution,

IT IS ORDERED that the following procedures are approved for use in the Family Courts statewide for the purpose of hearing bench warrants, SCDSS cases limited to emergency protective custody pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-610, intervention hearings, status review hearings, and permanency planning hearings.

1. The Chief Administrative Family Court Judge must submit to the Chief Justice prior to implementation written procedures for the use of videoconferencing equipment, to include specification for types of equipment and their placement.
2. No videoconference proceeding may take place in the Family Courts of this State unless the Defendant consents in writing and orally on the record to appear at the hearing by videoconference, rather than in person. Defendant must be represented by counsel, if appointed, who must be present in the courtroom, and counsel must consent to the appearance of the Defendant by videoconference. Defense counsel’s participation in the hearing is sufficient to show his or her consent. The family court judge must verify written and oral waiver of Defendant’s right to personal appearance at the commencement of any hearing.
3. Written consent of the defendant, upon Form SCCA/651 (Consent to Videoconferencing), a copy of which is attached and made a part of this Order, shall be obtained for use of videoconference equipment at a hearing or first appearance.
4. Equipment used to generate electronic transmission of signatures or other comparable equipment shall be available for transmission of documents between the judge and the defendant, and signatures generated and transmitted pursuant to such equipment shall have the full force and effect of an actual signature, be acceptable for purposes of binding all parties to the contents of the documents, and releasing the defendant from custody; however, all copies bearing an actual or electronic signature must be promptly filed with the court, and the defendant must promptly be provided with a copy of all documents he or she signs.
5. Equipment and facilities must include:
  a. Locations provided for the defendants and for the judges which are properly situated and furnished to be suitable for and conducive to judicial hearings. The locations must be sufficiently quiet and lighted for use of the video equipment and must also be furnished so as to apprise the defendant of the seriousness of the proceedings.
  b. At least two (2) video cameras, one to videoconference the defendant, and one to videoconference the judge. The cameras must also be capable of videoconferencing the defense counsel and witnesses as necessary.
    i. At least two (2) display monitors so that the defendant and judge can observe the proceedings at the other’s location simultaneously and converse with each other.
    ii. The room in which the judge is presiding should be accessible to the public, and interested parties should have an opportunity to observe the proceedings, as determined appropriate by the presiding judge. Therefore, the monitor should be positioned in the courtroom so that interested parties and counsel for the defense and prosecution can view the defendant. If necessary, additional monitors may be placed in the courtroom so that all present may view the proceedings.
  c. A telephone line, cellular telephone, or video terminal, so that defendant and defense counsel can communicate in private when in different locations.
  d. Two (2) printers, equipment used to generate the electronic transmission of signatures, or other comparable equipment, so that court documents, witness statements, and other papers can be sent back and forth between the two locations and printed at both locations, if necessary. The defendant must also be allowed to confidentially exchange papers back and forth to defense counsel.
6. A court reporter must be present in the courtroom throughout any hearing in order to preserve the official record of the hearing.
7. Upon application to the Chief Administrative Judge or the trial judge, video testimony, under the same terms and conditions as set forth within this Order, shall be allowed in such hearings as may be consented to by the parties and/or their counsel.

This Order is effective immediately and remains in effect until revoked or amended by Order of the Chief Justice.

  s/ Jean Hoefer Toal               
Jean Hoefer Toal
Chief Justice

January 10, 2007
Columbia, South Carolina