On June 1, the public will be allowed to bring cell phones and other personal electronic devices into all Delaware courthouses in an extension of a pilot program that got underway in February 2022.
There will still be restrictions on the use of the devices in court facilities, particularly in courtrooms. Still, it represents a shift in court policy that has barred most people from bringing cell phones into court. Family Court Chief Judge Michael K. Newell, who has overseen the pilot and advocated for the change, said the pilot program allowing personal electronic devices in a handful of court facilities, including the Sussex County Courthouse, was a success and did not cause significant safety or operational concerns.
Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz agreed and signed an order earlier this year instructing the committee overseeing the pilot program to expand it to the entire court system on June 1. “We are taking this step to increase access to the justice system, recognizing that personal electronic devices – particularly cell phones – have become an integral part of daily life,” said Seitz. “We know people want to keep in touch with family members, children, and perhaps work. And we know, in some instances at the courthouse, they may need access to their personal calendar or other vital personal information they keep on their phone.”
According to the order, the public will be allowed to use their devices in the courthouses’ halls, lobbies, and other public areas so long as such use does not disrupt or disturb court business or proceedings.
In the past, those visiting the courthouse had to lock up their mobile devices in vehicles. That sometimes included the contents of a wallet, since mobile device cases often have storage for IDs, cash and credit cards Jurors could contact people through phones in the waiting room but had to bring reading materials to pass the time.
With limited exceptions, visitors cannot take photos or record audio or video in the courthouse. One exception is that visitors will be allowed to use their devices to photograph or scan public court documents in clerks’ offices, so long as the device does not damage or mark the document in any way or interrupt the operations of the clerks’ office.
Use of personal devices in courtrooms will be tightly controlled, according to a release All visitors must turn off or silence their devices when in the courtroom. If a judicial officer feels the presence of personal devices is a threat to safety or security or otherwise interferes with the administration of justice. In that case, they may require all individuals in the courtroom to place their devices in a locking pouch until they leave. Court security will oversee the use of the secure pouches and can lock and unlock as needed.
The court order specifies that expansion of the program remains a pilot effort, and the committee charged with monitoring and evaluating the progress will issue a final report in March 2024, determining if the changes should become permanent.
The new cell phone policy under the pilot program can be found on the court website.
The Delaware court system still bans cameras and recording devices in courtrooms in media coverage, with high-profile trials providing work for courtroom artists. Chancery Court recently offered an audio feed in high-profile cases with the proviso that recording can’t occur.