An experimental program that will allow Sheriff's Department crime laboratory experts to present testimony in Torrance Municipal Court without leaving the station has been unveiled by county officials.
The $80,000 Torrance experiment will be followed this spring by another one in Glendale, in which prisoners will be arraigned or enter their pleas without leaving jail. That program, scheduled to last six months, will cost about $50,000, officials said.
The Glendale project originally was to have been in place this month but was held up by purchasing delays, said Sheila Gonzalez, Glendale Municipal Court administrator.
The one-year Torrance program will enable the two criminologists assigned to the sheriff's satellite crime laboratory at the Torrance Police Department to testify from the station on a cable television hookup to a courtroom.
The program will be limited to cases involving misdemeanor drunk driving or narcotics possession, said Robert Mimura of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, formed in 1981 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to study ways to improve the criminal justice system.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will have the option of having the criminologist appear on camera or in person, he said. Suspects in Glendale will have the same choice.
The experiments in Torrance and Glendale are intended to test the use of video technology in court and the level of acceptance of video technology in courtrooms, Mimura said. "That is probably the most critical aspect of the whole concept at this time."
Until now, the technology's use in Los Angeles County has been limited to such things as permitting spectators and reporters to monitor testimony over a closed-circuit system at the courthouse where the witness is testifying, he said.
Mimura and others involved in the Torrance experiment say they believe the idea of having expert witnesses testify by video camera is untested, unlike the concept of the Glendale project, which has been successful in other municipalities, including San Diego.
The Torrance experiment calls for one camera and a television monitor to be stationed at the Police Department and another at the courthouse to be shared by five courtrooms.