Yesterday, I visited the Wilson County Justice Center in Lebanon, Tennessee on behalf of a client. Upon approach, we noticed four different signs announcing cell phones or other recording devices were banned from the building. Note, it was not just the courtroom, but the entire building. As we approached security, the guards politely asked if we had cell phones on us. Fortunately, they were in the car but the computer in my bag raised an eyebrow. I flashed my all-access-I’m-an-attorney bar card and all was well (attorneys, employees and a few others are exempted from the ban).
Suspecting a good story behind the heavily advertised ban, I asked the ladies in the clerk’s office what prompted the zero tolerance policy. Apparently, in at least one instance, spectators in the courtroom texted witnesses waiting outside what the witness on the stand said. On top of that, judges did not like spectators taking pictures of the proceedings or of the judge personally. I imagined a witness snapping a quick selfie with the judge in the background and Aunt Lelia snapping a picture of cousin Jack’s latest arraignment to share instantly with Mama and ’em or possibly on facebook.
A judge may make rules for her or his court. Failure to follow those rules could result in contempt of court which could carry a fine or jail time. See our article on pajamas in the courtroom or other cell phone-related contempt of court rules for Circuit Court in Davidson County, Nashville, Tennessee. To be safe, you should always check local rules for your court to ensure you follow the rules perfectly. A quick internet search on your phone could help you keep that phone.
According to this article, a violator is subject to a 10-day jail sentence and/or forfeiture of their cell phone. And, as the cell phone is also a status symbol, some of them can be pretty costly (some iPhones retail in excess of $800+). That is a pretty heavy investment to simply be locked away in a vault.
The moral of this story is simply don’t bring your cell phone or recording device into the Wilson County Justice Center in Lebanon, Tennessee. The justice there is swift, the folks there are friendly but they take the cell phone ban seriously… and so should you.