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February 23, 2017

Philly courts to force visitors to lock cell phones in sealed pouches

New restrictions will soon be in place at Philadelphia courtrooms to crack down on witness intimidation by preventing visitors from accessing cell phones.

The First Judicial District of Pennsylvania announced Thursday that most visitors will be required to place their mobile devices in magnetically-sealed pouches upon entry to the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City. The rule goes into effect April 3.

Court officials hope to reduce instances of witness intimidation and other courtroom disruptions.

Judge Jacqueline F. Allen said the guidelines will allow the public to keep their personal belongings with them while the court conducts its business.

"The proliferation of mobile devices throughout society has given rise to safety and security concerns in our courtrooms," Allen said.

The restrictions apply to all mobile computing and telecommunication devices. Exceptions will be in place for people with disabilities and individuals who have job responsibilities inside the courthouse, including judges, attorneys, jurors, law enforcement personnel and media members.

The pouches, which were created by Yondr, will be distributed and collected by the sheriff's office. Visitors will be able to carry the pouch with them inside the courthouse but will be unable to access their phone. Users must have their sealed pouch unlocked before leaving the building.

"The new pouch is a functional, simple solution that eliminates the need to collect and store phones of all those entering the courthouse." Judge Marsha H. Neifield said.

Yondr, a San Francisco-based company, developed the technology to give music artists and other organizations the ability to have phone-free events.

"While we realize there may be some concerns about the new restrictions, we believe we have found a realistic way to increase safety in our courthouse without placing too much of a burden on the people we serve," Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper said.