In a world that has everything from digital recording devices to voice recognition software like Siri, you may look at the court reporters that you see on television court shows and wonder how long it will be before they're completely obsolete. Surely even the incredibly fast typing speeds achieved by a trained court reporter can't keep up with technology, right?
But as it turns out, there are some pretty good reasons why court reporters are still the preferred method of documenting jury trials. A trained court reporter offers some advantages that technology just can't match.
Court Reporters Can See Who is Speaking
Court reporters are they eyes and ears of the court. If their only job were to get the words onto the paper, speech to text technology might be able to replace them. But they not only preserve a record of what is said in the courtroom, they also preserve a record of who said what.
Despite the advances of speech to text software and voice recognition software, experts say that it simply isn't a replacement for court reporters at this time. Popular voice recognition software isn't designed to translate speech to text for multiple voices, making it more of a liability than an asset when trying to record the activity in a courtroom when several people are speaking at once.
Voice to text software, like Dragon, isn't as fast as a court reporter either. Dragon is designed to capture between 150 to 180 words per minute, which is roughly the average speed of human speech. But when attorneys are speaking quickly, a trained court reporter, who can record around 250 words per minute, is definitely called for.
Court Reporters Can Ask for Clarification
Accurate court transcripts are needed so that when a court's decision is appealed, an accurate record of the original trial exists. Human court reporters can speak up and ask for a word or phrase to be repeated if they didn't catch it the first time. Digital recording technology will simply keep on recording, oblivious to anything that the microphones don't pick up.
When electronic recordings are transcribed after the fact, the records are often incomplete. Words like "inaudible" and "unintelligible" are put in place of the words that the transcriber can't understand, either because the words were obscured by outside noise or too many people talking at once, or just because the speaker mumbled or failed to speak into the microphone. In an appeal, those inaudible and unintelligible words and phrases could make all the difference to the case.
Court Reporters are Officers of the Court
Officially, a court reporter is more than just a human recording device. Legally, court reporters are officers of the court, just like judges, lawyers, and bailiffs. Court reporters can make suggestions to the judge regarding courtroom procedures, and their job duties help ensure that trials are fair. An impartial court reporter is part of the check and balance system that keeps trials fair.
To fulfill their duties, court reporters need to be highly trained. Aside from being able to type at high speeds, they need to be proficient in the English language, in courtroom policies and procedures, and in a wide variety of legal, medical, and technical terminology.
In many areas, court reporters are also notaries and can perform clerk of court duties as well. It would be impossible to find a machine or piece of software that could possibly replace all of the functions of a court reporter.
While technology can provide a number of useful tools for a court reporter to use, it can't replace them completely. The human element provided by a court reporter is a vital part of the system that ensures fair trials for all. Read more here.