Recordkeeping in the Criminal Justice System
Maintaining accurate and detailed records of criminal proceedings ensures that a defendant’s rights are protected and eliminates room for potential errors. There are a number of individuals who are responsible for recordkeeping within the criminal justice system. When a criminal trial or court hearing is underway, it’s the job of the court reporter to create a complete transcript of the events that take place.
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What Do Court Reporters Do?
The primary function of a criminal justice court reporter is to ensure that every word that is spoken during a court proceeding is recorded verbatim. In addition to recording events at trial, court reporters may also be called upon to transcribe speeches or interviews, record witness statements, attend arbitration meetings, or transcribe public hearings. Court reporters assist judges and may also assist trial attorneys in organizing the official court record or performing searches for information. Some court reporters also use their skills to provide closed captioning in situations where a court proceeding is being televised.
There are several ways that court reporters perform their duties. Some court reporters work on a stenotype machine, which allows them to use shorthand notation to record what others are saying. The typed shorthand is then translated using a process called computer-aided transcription or CAT, which results in a readable text. Court reporters may also opt to use a steno mask, which is worn over the face and allows them to speak into a covered microphone and record what’s being said. The recorded speech is then converted into a written transcript using voice-recognition software. A newer method of court reporting involves the use of digital recording equipment. The court reporter creates an audio file of the proceedings, rather than a written text.
What Education Do I Need to Become a Court Reporter?
The type of education you’ll need to become a court reporter ultimately depends on the type of reporting you’re interested in and the licensing requirements in your state. For example, if you want to learn to use a steno mask or work with digital recording, you may be able to complete your training and earn your certificate or diploma in as little as six months. Stenography programs typically take between two and four years to complete, but you’re earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, rather than a certificate. Generally, you’ll be required to take courses in English grammar, phonetics, and legal terminology. If you’re planning on working within the criminal justice system, it may also be beneficial to take courses in judicial procedure and criminal law.
You may also need to seek additional licensure or certification before seeking work as a court reporter. The type of license you’ll need depends on the type of court reporting technology your degree or diploma is in. The National Court Reporters Association offers certification for court reporters, including stenographers as well as digital and voice recorders. The licensure process typically involves completing a written test and a skills test.
Career Outlook for Court Reporters
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of court reporters is expected to grow by 14 percent through 2020, with a particular emphasis on individuals who are skilled at providing closed captioning services. This is slightly higher than the expected overall job growth for other legal professions. State and local government agencies employed approximately 56 percent of the estimated 22,000 court reporters in the United States, and that trend is expected to continue. As of May 2010, the median annual wage for a court reporter was $47,700, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,710, while the top 10 percent earned more than $91,280.