After leaving a law enforcement career in 1993 following some incidents that acclaimed national media in Miami, being truly undecided about long term career plans, and and a strong personal desire to follow interests in video technolgy prevailed.
During this era VHS and BetaMax and Industrial 3/4" were the three recordable video media formats. The opportunity to apply the recording of depositions during the litigation process was becoming very poular and in demand. 1.) For memorializing the testimony 2.) Intimidating the witness to tell the truth. 3.) To review facial expressions. Mark Levy founded Accurate Video Services, Inc. in 1988 with the support of many of Miami's finest Court Reporting agencies catering directly to the legal community.
Today, Accurate Video Services, Inc. provides next generation video technologies combined with affordable meeting rooms and private cloud infrastructure. Accurate Video Services, Inc. delivers a superior business quality cloud based video communications networking and software solution to enterprise large and small. A real B2B and B2C marketing opportunity through partnership with MIVNET.COM
USA v. Manuel Antonio Noriega. In 1992, Mark traveled to Panama following the invasion on behalf of the U.S. Government to capture video testimony of the imprisoned Noriega regime which later evnentully helped to prosecute the notorius dictator in a Miami Federal Courtroom.
In the folowing years Mark Levy was able to introduce video conferencing to the Miami Dade County Criminal Courts. With an abundance of acceptance he was retained to travel to various districts within the state of Florida doing the same for some notorius and some non notorius criminal cases which involved remote testimony.
The Florida court system, tasked with providing civil and criminal justice in the Sunshine State, consists of four levels of authority: 67 county courts, 20 circuit courts, five district courts of appeal, and one Supreme Court. A wide variety of cases, from domestic disputes and civil lawsuits to misdemeanors and felony crimes, are heard by the court system.
Until 1995, the state allowed live testimony to be heard only from witnesses and victims who were physically present in the court. The advent of videoconferencing in the early 1990s, however, forever changed courtroom testimony. In particular, a 1995 case, State of Florida v. David Harrell, established the use of videoconferencing technology in the court system. David Harrell was accused of robbing two Argentinean tourists visiting Florida. The case against him was strong, but threatened to fall apart when the victims, one of whom was suffering from cancer, could not return to Florida for the trial. The Miami/Dade County State's Attorney suggested a solution: the use of videoconferencing set up in such a way that all parties would be visible to each other during testimony.
Trial and Error
Attorneys have always dreaded the distinct possibility that witnesses will fail to appear for trial - be it due to illness, logistics, personal conflicts or even outright fear. If the witnesses can?t be compelled to appear or be somehow transported to the courtroom, the consequences can be devastating. A sizable number of felony cases have been dropped and defendants set free when eyewitnesses or victims have not been available to complete the evidentiary chain.
Miami/Dade County prosecutors did not want to face that scenario in the case against David Harrell. They asked Mark Levy, president of Accurate Video Services, Inc., to provide videoconferencing service inside the courtroom so the victims in Argentina could participate. At the time, the tiny firm, now located in Vero Beach, FL., was working mostly with corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations to hook up remote employees and speakers so they could participate in short-term, large-event, and high-impact meetings and conferences.
But Levy had also had some experience in legal matters, founding the Metropolitan Interactive Video Network (MIVNET), a non-profit association of public room providers of videoconferencing services. At that time, the organization consisted mainly of court reporting agencies but has since grown to 202 locations. Court-related matters, such as providing attorneys with a low-cost opportunity to depose remote witnesses or to remotely meet with opposing counsel, still dominate its workload.
In 1995, of course, videoconferencing was still a relatively young technology and Accurate Video Services, Inc., was the only company in Florida providing the service. When approached, Levy agreed to help with the Harrell case, setting up a PictureTel / Polycom 4000 group system, a then-state-of-the-art solution known for its robust capability, interoperability, and reliability. PictureTel/ Polycom remains a leading provider of group and desktop videoconferencing solutions. Levy continues to use the PictureTel / Polycom solution. "This is a workhorse system," he stated. "It's going to work forever as far as I'm concerned. I wouldn't switch it for the world."
For the Harrell case, Levy equipped the courtroom with two cameras, two screens, and several microphones. The setup enabled the witness to see the jury, the defendant, and the inquiring attorney at all times. Levy also worked to ensure interoperability with the videoconferencing system back in Argentina, which allowed the defendant to see the witness. Video from both Miami and Argentina was transmitted simultaneously in real-time. "The setup was critical, because defendants have a constitutional right to confront their accusers," Levy explained.
The trial went forward and Harrell was convicted. As expected, the case was appealed based on the unprecedented use of videoconferencing in a criminal case. After a lengthy deliberation, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the use of videoconferencing in criminal cases within the state of Florida when victims or witnesses cannot appear in court. The Court also provided guidelines for the use of technology and under circumstances a victim or witness did not have to appear in court.
Making the Case
Today, though used with restraint, videoconferencing has become commonplace in the Florida court system. Accurate Video Services, Inc., has an ongoing relationship with the state and has since used the PictureTel / Polycom system in more than a dozen court cases. Most recently, the firm broadcast the testimony of witnesses located in Barcelona, Spain. "I'm not the only one anymore with this system, but I can be mobilized and ready to go in less than two hours, which is critical," Levy said, noting he usually receives calls from one of Florida's 20 state's attorney's offices.
Staging inside a courtroom is key to a successful prosecution or litigation. "Every courtroom is different and it has to be staged in a way that's going to work," Levy said. "The judge needs to be able to control the proceedings, the witness needs to be able to visualize the defendant and the attorney arguing the case, and, importantly, the jury needs to be able to see the person on the stand. You usually have the lunch break to set up and you only get one chance to do it. So it's important to have a good understanding of the legal system, as well as a good videoconferencing solution like the PictureTel / Polycom 4000 that's easy to use and quick to implement."
Things can get even more complicated when multiple cameras are used, a situation that requires Levy to use a video/audio mixer to compress and send more than one image at a time. "We split the screen, quad the screen, do whatever we need to do to get the questioning attorney and the defendant on camera and allow the remote witness to have the same line of sight they would normally have on the witness stand."
Since the Harrell case, Florida courts and the justice system have benefited significantly from the use of videoconferencing. "It really expands their authoritative power beyond the walls of the courtroom," Levy said.
The technology also makes the confrontation issue less harrowing for certain victims, particularly those who are alleging domestic abuse, child molestation and sexual battery. "That simple requirement of confrontation has been a major reason why such a small percentage of these cases have been prosecuted in the past," he explained. "Now by separating the two individuals through videoconferencing, the victim or witness doesn't have that pressure on them to sit near a defendant and it makes it a lot easier for the state to convince a victim to go forward with their testimony."
"in 1995, accurate video services pioneered the application of videoconferencing within Florida state criminal court system.
following a landmark supreme court ruling in the case;
upholding the use of videoconferencing in certain circumstances when courts require remote testimony and or the witness cannot travel to the courtroom
See the Florida Supreme Court opinion on the use of interactive video technology as it applies to the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution. Use guidelines within the Florida criminal courts.
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