Illinois Supreme Court Announces New Policy on Portable Electronic Devices in Courthouses

portable electronic devices in courtrooms

The Illinois Supreme Court recently announced that every state courthouse in Illinois will be required to adopt individual orders or rules regarding the use of portable electronic devices, like cell phones or personal computers, within courthouse buildings and courtrooms.

This update follows a recommendation by the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission (ATJ Commission). The ATJ Commission’s Court Guidance & Training Committee began working on a policy and recommendation in 2018 and gathered a working group of stakeholders, including many sheriffs.

“The courts must adapt with the times, and this is an important way to address the needs of court users,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “It is no longer realistic to ask people to leave cell phones and other electronics at home when they visit courthouses.”

Reducing roadblocks for SRLs

While many courthouses already allow courtroom staff, lawyers, and jurors to have electronic portable devices in courtrooms, some have barred members of the public and self-represented litigants (SRLs) from doing the same, which has created roadblocks for court users, said Jill Roberts, Supervising Senior Program Manager in the Access to Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts.

For example, in today’s hybrid court system, court users may appear in person at their courthouse only to be directed to attend court on Zoom, Roberts said. While some courthouses have “Zoom rooms” for this purpose, court users are often asked to use their cell phones when these spaces are unavailable.

If users knew phones weren’t allowed in the courthouse and left theirs at home, they risk not being able to make their appearance on time despite being at the courthouse.

Additionally, the lack of mobile devices has complicated scheduling additional court appearances, arranging rides home from the courthouse, and completing mandatory e-filings at court e-filing stations, which requires the verification of a link sent by email.

“If you don’t have your cell phone with you, it is impossible to verify that email since nearly all email programs require authentication if logging in from a new device, verification that is usually sent to your cell phone,” Roberts said.

Anecdotally, Roberts said that she has heard of people rushing to their cars to get a verification code or link sent to their cell phone, but then never coming back to the courthouse, possibly abandoning their cases entirely.

Allowing courts to establish policies

The new policy permits individual courts to address any security issues by allowing restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices in a circuit court’s local orders or rules. If devices are restricted, however, courthouses must provide free storage for the equipment.

Champaign County, the first county to publicly change their policy, has opted to allow the general public to bring cellphones and other portable electronic devices into county courthouses. However, there are caveats.

For example, devices aren’t to be used in a courtroom without the judge’s permission and the public isn’t permitted to take photos, audio, or video in the courtroom except for events like weddings and graduations in problem-solving courts.

Even with these restrictions, Roberts says allowing cell phones and other devices in the courthouse makes accessing information to support legal matters easier.

“SRLs having access to their devices while in the courthouse allows the ATJ Commission to further promote and develop web-based resources that people can access on their mobile devices while in the courthouse to get information and resources they might need,” Roberts said. “Although we certainly need to be mindful of the digital divide, more and more people have access to a mobile device, and we can rely on that to offer and expand the resources and information available to litigants.”

Where will this policy take effect?

Individual courts will decide the exact parameters of portable electronic device usage in their courtrooms. Some counties have already embraced the change, while others, like McLean County, have maintained stricter guidelines.

In either event, instructions from the Illinois Supreme Court mandate clear signage explaining policies and restrictions.

Nationally, the National Center for State Courts lists policies on portable electronic devices for court systems in 33 U.S. states and territories. Each policy attempts to balance the necessity of portable devices for a variety of court functions with potential security and safety risks.

In 2017, the U.S. Judicial Conference provided detailed guidance for courts on creating policies for the use of portable communication devices in courthouses.

Related reading:

Staying up to date on issues impacting the legal profession is vital to your success. Subscribe here to get the Commission’s weekly news delivered to your inbox.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

8 thoughts on “Illinois Supreme Court Announces New Policy on Portable Electronic Devices in Courthouses

  1. Free storage is not good enough. Everyone should be allowed to bring their device inside all courthouses. Use inside courtrooms should be prohibited (with exceptions noted) or at any time with a judge’s permission. Self-represented people may have notes, caselaw etc. stored on their phones. People including those with counsel may have their calendars on their phones and need to consult when arranging continuances. Sometimes calls need to be made to check availability of witness, childcare, and many other things and a person should be able to step into a hallway to make those calls not get their phones out of free storage, leave the building, make the calls, put the phone back in storage, go through security and back to the court. A large notice that says unpermitted use of phones in the courtroom at any time will result in phone confiscation and destruction as well as contempt of court and possible jail.

  2. I tried filing a no stalking order, which I did need my cellphone and wasn’t allowed to bring it with me so I guess I cannot file the order. The gentleman downstairs said talk to your court appointed attorney, suggesting I was there for a case without even asking or knowing that I was only trying to file the order the police had told me to do. I find this extremely unacceptable!

  3. If lawyers representing clients get access, then “self-representing defendants” should also get access to phones. The expectation of equal and fair access to law is always the highest priority of the courts therefore as the Illini Supreme court decided, No restrictions should be in place. Eliminating access to witness information available on the device, such as documents, records, photographs, etc that pertain to the individual’s defense or limitations of access through the device’s network (internet) to more easily, instantly and efficiently obtain information also pertaining to the individuals defense. Many defendants do not have the ability or financial means to transfer, print, distribute or disseminate the data gathered off of their cellphones. In fact, many defendants use such devices solely for their personal data collection and have no other means of access, such as a home PC or laptop.

    In addition, Having Access to legal representation should not be a prerequisite or requirement for this Jan 2022, Illinois Supreme Court decision and widely accepted and societal norm practice. Not having the means to afford counsel which allows access to “cellphone access”, should not garner an advantage nor cause a disadvantage to any person in a Court of law.

    1. The courthouse is paid by we the people of our taxes. So therefore even the Constitution of the United States says we are allowed any public building which is a courthouse we can have phones cameras and all but you can’t have it in the courtroom. The laws that these people make up does not trample the Constitution of the United States. Unless they quit taking our tax money to pay for our building. This is just another scam law that someone made up. Like the Democrats.

  4. After moving to Illinois, I always found it very strange that courthouses here strictly ban entry with portable electronic devices, as-well-as prohibit filming within common areas. After all, the courthouse is a government facility that is open to the public. Not allowing cameras, pictures, and recording in the lobby or publicly accessible areas (except for special restricted areas and courtrooms) is a blatant disregard for a citizen’s constitutionally protected rights and is a direct violation of the First Amendment: Prohibiting citizens to free exercise; protects freedom of speech, the press, and assembly!

  5. Not being allowed my cell phone in McLean County courthouse allowed an individual to threaten my life and shove me in front of deputies, then waited, I should say stalked me by waiting for me to come outside! To make matters worse, when I tried to get help, file charges, I was basically told I was a liar! I had a witness, was escorted out through the sheriff’s department to avoid being assaulted, yet not one official helped me! Had I had my cellphone in a public place, I could have been able to call 911 or something to actually be protected! I do not feel safe in that courthouse, and knowing they allowed this to happen to me and called me a liar, I will never feel safe there!!! I am searching for an attorney to help me get some help in this matter. I tried all channels, even left a message to the States attorney and got no call back, so I need an attorney to help me. This cannot be allowed to happen in a place where they claim to have a safe establishment and therefore prohibit phones…that is true comedy there! McLean County courthouse, you all failed me and my witness!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *