Starting July 1, the public will no longer be able to enter the Kershaw County Courthouse with a cellphone. In addition to banning cellphones altogether, the public will not be able to carry tote bags, purses or backpacks into the courthouse as well.
Kershaw County Clerk of Court Janet Hasty and Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Craig Hudson, who is in charge of courthouse security, the move is part of an ongoing effort to make the courthouse more secure for the public and courthouse staff.
Hasty said she attended a clerk of court’s conference recently and learned that a number of other South Carolina courthouses of enacted such bans.
“It makes it so much easier for the security of both the public and the courthouse,” she said.
Hudson said despite long-standing court orders to turn off or at least silence cellphones in court rooms, the sound of ringing cellphones or people talking on them is still a disruption.
“And we have to worry about people using them to record or film court proceedings,” he said.
“We can’t watch everybody,” Hasty added. “There are so many rooms in the building.”
Hudson said even though people will not be allowed to bring their cellphones or bags into the building, they still want people to be able to bring what they need to court.
“We want them to bring what they need for their case, but without needing to go through their personal belongings,” Hudson said. “If we have to go through a purse or backpack, it’s also slowing down the people behind them.”
That matters, Hasty said, as the courthouse is -- thankfully, she added -- more people are responding to jury duty notices. She said that means there can be as many of 60 to 80 potential jurors coming through the front door and metal detectors in a short amount of time. On important court dates, such as bond hearings and trials, dozens of people may decide to attend proceedings.
According to Hudson, in 2018, members of the public entered the courthouse through the front door 103,834 times. In 2019, to date, there have already been 32,669 times that someone has entered through the front door.
“And every one of those people have a cell phone,” Hasty noted.
There will be exceptions, most notably attorneys, Hudson said.
“They will be exempt due to carrying case files, calendars and using their cellphones to communicate with and work for their clients,” he said.
South Carolina courts, including Kershaw County’s, already ban most electronic devices, such as cameras and laptops. Members of the media must gain written consent from a judge before entering a courtroom with a video or digital camera, laptop or other devices with which to work.
“A lot of the judges agree with us on this,” Hasty said of the new ban.
Hudson acknowledged the ban will inconvenience people at first, but suggested they leave their belongings in their vehicles, out of sight and to make sure the doors are locked.
“People usually come to the courthouse because something’s been done to them or they’ve been accused of doing something to someone else. They’re not necessarily happy to be here,” Hudson noted. “We understand that, but we also need to show respect for the court.”
Hasty said the ban will go into effect on July 1 in order to give her and Hudson enough time to come up with new signage and continue educating the public.