If you have ever stepped foot in a Michigan courthouse, you have undoubtedly encountered the “no cell phone” rule. Michigan courts have typically only allowed court personnel and attorneys to take their cell phones, tablets etc. inside courthouses past the metal detectors that you usually first encounter. Some courts have small lockers that you can use to lock up your phones, while other courts simply tell you to leave your phone in the car. Leaving your phone in the car is a problem if you don’t have a car or didn’t drive to court. People who take public transportation, bike, or Uber to court are often left wondering where they can put their phone since they aren’t allowed to take them inside. Some people even resort to hiding their devices in bushes outside of courthouses. As of the beginning of 2020, that has all changed. On January 8th, the Michigan Supreme Court amended the Michigan court rule (MCR 8.115) to allow cell phones, tablets, laptops, and any other similar items inside Michigan courthouses. It allowed people to have the ability to research, communicate, and take notes electronically. This is a major change from the past.
What are the permitted uses of cell phones inside courthouses?
You may now use your cell phone or other device to send and receive text messages, take notes, and access email and the internet while inside courthouses and courtrooms. You are now able to also take photos of court documents within the court clerk’s office so long as you don’t leave any mark or impression on the original document. This is a big departure from how things were done in the past where members of the public would have to pay as much as $1 per page for copies.
You must keep your cell phone on silent while inside any courtroom and may not make or receive calls or make any other audible noise with your device while court is in session. You may not use your phone to take any other photos or video unless given prior approval from the judge. You may not use your phone in any way that is disruptive to the court and its proceedings. Each court will have their own specific rules regarding what is considered disruptive uses. If you are found to be using your phone in a disruptive manner, then the court may confiscate your phone for the remainder of the day or order you to shut off your phone and put it away. If the disruption is preventing the court from conducting its business, you may even find yourself in contempt of court. Just because you are now allowed to use your phone does not mean you can do it any way you please. Being disruptive due to cell phone use in court can land you in jail if you do not still respect the norms of the courthouse and judge.
Why did the Supreme Court change this rule?
The Supreme Court found that lower income people and people representing themselves were at a severe disadvantage in their cases because they could not bring cell phones, tablets or other similar devices. The ability to use a smart phone or device that can connect to the internet was restricted by the previous rule which allowed each court to determine its cell phone policy individually. The previous policy mainly allowed only court personnel and attorneys to carry cell phones. This left everyone else mostly powerless and disconnected the moment they stepped inside a courthouse. This policy aims to modernize the court while leveling the playing field some for people representing themselves. This policy is also eco-friendly as it will also save on paper and printing as people will be allowed to photograph court documents with their phones as stated above from the clerk’s office.
When does it take effect?
In some courts this has already taken effect based on the court’s discretion. Michigan courts have until May 1, 2020 before this rule takes full effect across all courts. Please call us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896 or contact us online at Grabel & Associates if you have any questions regarding this issue or need to speak to an attorney.