trialWe have all felt that tension that builds when a big event is happening, and your AV is the star of the show. Have you done enough to make sure it does not fail? There is a pit in the knot of your stomach when it is high stakes, like a board meeting, or other top level meeting.

Yet, what can be more high stakes than a murder trial?  Especially one that is on the national news every single night, like the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial. That is why I was blown away when I saw the latest news about Skype being used during the trial. For an account of what happened, check it out here.

In a nutshell, while a witness was testifying, he started getting repeated incoming calls. Despite the obvious visual interruption of this, the ringing also drowned out his voice at times. Eventually, they decided to switch over to a telephone conference call.

It AMAZES me that Skype conferencing is even allowed during a trial. Especially, a criminal trial where someone’s life and freedom are on the line. How could either the prosecutor or the defense attorney agree to this?  Have they ever used skype? Even in my line of work, where the most serious video conferences are job interviews, we have people choose not to use Skype!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Skype, and as I mentioned, we use it a lot at Bates College.  However, the stakes are much lower.

I checked in with Jennifer Willlard, who works for the court system of California. She pointed out an article she wrote for rAVe back in January. I have to question whether this instance in the Zimmerman trial could be viewed as violating George Zimmerman’s due process rights. In her article, Jennifer points out that this is something that the State of California has made clear cannot happen. In tweets back and forth she also indicated that the court systems generally prefer not to use Skype. The reasons are pretty logical and obvious, Quality of Service (there is none) and security.  While the security of Skype has improved over the years, it certainly does not allow our network administrators to do some of the things they can do with professional hardware based systems.

I learned three lessons from thinking about this fiasco:

1.  Keep a link to this article handy and send people to it whenever they tell you, “Skype is fine, I use it at home all the time.” It may be fine, and it may suit their needs, but this will help them understand that things can go wrong. Give them all the information they need, positive and negative, but make sure to educate them.

2.  This was a bad day for AV. As Malisa Dillman pointed out in a tweet to Jennifer and me, this could be a sales opportunity, similar to what I said in point #1 above. However, Jennifer said, “You find me one judge who didn’t watch the 5 o’clock news and now thinks, not in MY courtroom.” Unfortunately, most people will see this and think, technology has failed again. In this case the technology did not fail, quite the opposite. It worked exactly as expected.

3.  This was human error. I can only hope that the person responsible for AV in this courtroom made clear to all participants what could go wrong with Skype. I also hope s/he warned the witness to put their Skype status on Do Not Disturb. At least that would have taken care of the ringing. I know the pressure that can be put on Technology Managers to “just get it done.” Just remember to cover yourself, because after a situation like this, it could be your job getting done.

I would love to hear some feedback on this! Do you use Skype for high stakes events? What are your thoughts on what happened in this trial?