By Debbie Burke
A mistake in a court transcript resulted in a “confession” to a double murder in Syracuse, NY.
During testimony before a grand jury in February 2020, 13-year-old Brendell Elmore said he “shut the door.” However, the court reporter erroneously transcribed that he “shot the dude.”
By law, grand juries do not allow recording. A transcription by a court reporter is the official record of the proceedings. If the reporter doesn’t record something, it didn’t happen. Or if s/he records something incorrectly, that error stands unless challenged. Transcripts are critically important because they are the only documents that judges consider when they make rulings and decide appeals.
Fortunately, in Brendell’s case, an audio recording verified his actual words–“shut the door.” The reporter had inadvertently activated a record option, saving his testimony. Although illegal, the judge ruled the recording was not intentional and it was crucial to the accuracy of the proceedings.
A news report about the error can be found at this link. A trial in March resulted in the conviction of Brendell’s older brother Treamon in the double murders, covered here. Even though Brendell didn’t pull the trigger, he was present during the crimes and held the victims at gunpoint with a non-working pistol. He faces time in a detention facility for his role.
The disturbing error in the transcript calls into question the long-standing practice of human stenographers who record documents by hand (and ear) in an age when digital recording is reliable and accurate.
While some courts are trending toward technology, lawyers still come down in favor of human stenographers, according to this article.
UPDATE: Please scroll down to Jim Bell’s comment for a more expert analysis than mine. Thanks, Jim!
TKZers: Do you think court reporters are obsolete? Should digital recording be allowed in legal cases? What about using both reporters and recordings in tandem?