Curt Smith: Our local justice system’s technology must catch up

Curt SmithWe the jury find the defendant guilty, including being a convicted felon in illegal possession of a gun.

This was the verdict of my Marion County jury last month. But this juror reached an additional verdict—a verdict about our Indianapolis justice system.

The summons came, and the task was daunting. I researched the likely time commitments—if chosen, probably a day, maybe two or even three days. So I blocked off three days for this solemn, even sacred, duty.

On trial day, there was much focus on the term “criminal justice system.” During what would become a 15-hour marathon, the word “system” likely came up more than 20 times—from the judge, from the prosecution, from the defense, from the court administrators, bailiffs and beyond.

Yes, we convicted the defendant for committing intimidation against his girlfriend, resisting arrest, and a gun violation. All this happened over a $50 allegedly mishandled food-service delivery order from a popular fast-food restaurant.

My second verdict: The criminal justice system in Indianapolis, already under significant strain, must grow into the technology taxpayers are providing.

When sequestered, we reviewed the evidence. There were 911 calls, video from startled customers in the store who activated video recorders, gun forensics and testimony from two police officers. We put great weight on the testimony of the then-25-year-old general manager who went to extraordinary efforts to protect his even younger shift manager and workers. Someday, I may go to his store just to shake his hand.

The defendant and his girlfriend also testified, and we agreed, hurt their cause.

But interestingly, technology made our role easier. The 911 calls and video gave corroborating, contemporaneous confirmation of the state’s case and evidence.

However, it was hard for us to access those key elements of the case, as the Community Justice Campus is still growing into its technology. The bailiff told us the building cost $650 million, up from the budgeted $550 million. Yet even with a good tech guy on our jury, we could not review the digital files on the big screen. So we crowded around a laptop approved by the court (no WiFi, to prevent us from accessing anything not previously filtered by the court) and reviewed the clips over and over, until all were satisfied.

Initially, we found the defendant guilty of two charges and thought our day was over. Then the judge informed us he had a surprise. There was the third charge that could not be presented during phase one—because knowing the defendant had a prior gun conviction could prejudice our deliberations on charges one and two. Surprise, indeed. And while understood, it was unwelcome at 8:30 p.m.

We returned to the jury room and our laptop screen, focusing this time on a video that was not paramount for counts one and two. Again, we all readily and quickly agreed—guilty.

After the trial, we learned part of our morning delay was also due to technology problems in presenting the courtroom evidence.

We formed a strong yet temporary bond. We came from all areas, races, walks of life, ages and occupations. I was the only one wearing a sport coat, yet I was not the oldest. We laughed together frequently, sharing the unique experience.

And this juror takes great satisfaction in knowing that he joined with 11 other capital city Hoosiers to protect public safety. In the end, we did our duty, with the help of technology that the “system” must grow to master in a digital world.•


Smith is chairman of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” Send comments to

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