Court installs cameras, screens to aid testimony

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BENNINGTON -- Two years after obtaining a grant from the American Bar Association, a high tech "evidence presentation system" has been installed in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division.

Thejuror box now has eightblack monitor screens where evidence can be displayed. Screens have also been fixed to the tables where the prosecutors and defense attorneys sit, in addition to the judge's bench. Another screen sits on wheels and can be pointed anywhere in the courtroom.

Deputy State's Attorney Christina Rainville said the main reason behind the system is so that child victims of sexual assault can testify in another room. She said that many times a case has to be dropped because the victim cannot face the alleged abuser.

The grant was applied for by the Child Advocacy Center, Rainville said.

When she began at the State's Attorney's office in 2007, about a month into her stint she was prosecuting a sex case involving a child and filed a motion to allow testimony outsidethe court.While laws allowing it have been on the books since 1985, the technology hasn't been available anywhere in Vermont, Rainville said.

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She said a motion must still be filed and granted by a judge to have an alleged victim testify outside the courtroom.

A local attorney said, however, that such testimony could hamper the process. "I think people who are able to put other people in jail should face them in court," said Public Defender Frederick Bragdon. He said a jury has to be able to look at a witness and assess their credibility, and something gets lost when it's through a screen.

The grant is for $20,000, and there were a number of hurdles to clear in getting the system set up, Rainville said. One was the fact the law states the alleged victim must be able to see the person they're accusing on the screen as well, which Rainville said defeated the purpose. She said a request was made of the Vermont Supreme Court to change that aspect of the law, which was granted.

Another element slowing the project down was it being a reimbursement grant. Rainville said the money had to be put up by the State's Attorney's office, which because of statewide budget issues didn't have the funds. She the CAC fronted the cost, and the grant was able to go through.

Other obstacles included questions about how permanent the courtroom itself is. For the past three years, the state offices in Bennington have resided in modular buildings set next to the old 1970s-era brick building, which was closed because of problems with air quality. It's currently being torn down and rebuilt. Rainville said the cost of moving the evidence presentation system to the new building is covered in the grant.

A training session on how to use the system will be held in March for attorneys who work in the Bennington court, Rainville said, adding that during a hearing on a recent pending case, several dozen slides were shown to a judge and submitted as evidence in about an hour and a half. The traditional way would have taken roughly three days, she said.


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