September 15, 2020
District Attorney’s Office Loans Technology to Victims and Witnesses Testifying Virtually
COVID-19 has changed the way our society functions and our judicial system is no different. Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raúl Torrez, has been adamant about advocating for careful planning and preparation to make courtrooms safe. Aligned with this effort to keep our city safe while continuing to fight for change in Bernalillo County, our agents have been delivering sanitized tablets and cell phones to victims and witnesses to ensure they’re able to appear at a remote trial setting.
“It’s like an Uber-cell phone delivery,” Kyle Hartsock, Special Agent in Charge of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Special Investigation Bureau said.
When attorneys and victim advocates speak to witnesses, one of the questions they ask is if they have a reliable internet capable device with a camera. In the cases where someone doesn’t have access to a device, the attorney contacts our unit, Hartsock said.
The office has two iPads and two cell phones dedicated to this initiative that started in March, with agents maintaining a schedule for when the devices are delivered and picked up from those testifying during hearings and trials. Recipients also get instructions on how to operate and connect the device.
“[Victims and witnesses] are able to fully participate in the process… without the health threat of leaving the house or going to the courtroom,” Hartsock said.
Hartsock said this is one of the biggest adjustments the office has made to accommodate trials and hearings during the pandemic and those who utilize the devices feel empowered.
“[Those testifying] love it because they don’t even have to leave their house,” Hartsock said. “They get it delivered, they get to use it and it works. And now they’re able to keep their offender in jail or get them indicted.”
Senior Investigator and supervisor of the initiative, Daniel King, said people have been grateful to have access to the devices. “It’s a great service we’re providing for people,” King said. “People have been appreciative and we’re getting some positive results back.”
The office’s effort to go the extra mile hasn’t gone unnoticed, according to King.
There’s been immense gratitude from victims and witnesses who are grateful they can participate, he said.