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Recordings from Virginia Tech Shooter's Civil Commitment Found Inaudible

July 14, 2011

Case Reiterates the Need for a Live Court Reporter

The audio tapes recovered from the high-profile case of the convicted Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho's 2005 civil commitment hearing serve as another piece of evidence for using stenographic court reporters as opposed to digital audio recording (DAR). The recordings were sought in a wrongful death suit filed by several victims' families and were believed to have been destroyed.

Further complicating matters, the tapes were initially misplaced and only later discovered amongst other records. Upon receiving the audio recording, the plaintiffs' attorney found major portions of Cho's testimony to be inaudible. Virginia state law requires courts to maintain paper transcripts for 10 years but the state only has to keep the audio recording for three, a time period that may not even allow enough time for cases to fully make it through the appeals process.

The initial misplacement of the audio tapes and subsequent misunderstanding surrounding the content of the recordings further mitigates the so-called financial benefits that come from courts using DAR or ER. DAR is not worth the risk and may in fact cost more in the end. The poor qualities of audio recordings may jeopardize the integrity of the entire record. Only a live court reporter offers true "voice-to-text" technology that can be translated instantaneously onto a computer and digitally archived, protecting against loss or destruction. Court administrators and judges must remember that when someone's life or livelihood is on the line, they cannot take the chance that a recording will fail. A live court reporter is the best option available. For more information, please contact NCRA's Government Relations Department at govrelations@ncrahq.org.