Can we record court proceedings when there is not a court reporter present?

Yes, because some courts in Mississippi are not “courts of record,” and there may not be a court reporter present that is transcribing everything that is said.  As you may imagine, it is almost always good to have a clear transcript of what is said in court, to resolve any confusion about what was said when it later becomes very important.  Mississippi law recognizes this, and Section 9-13-32 of the Mississippi Code Annotated provides that:

Any attorney of record in any cause pending in a court which does not provide an official court reporter, may, in the discretion of such attorney, record or have recorded any court proceeding in such cause by mechanical means or stenographically.  Any expenses incident thereto shall be borne by the party or parties represented by such attorney of record.  The record of the court proceeding shall be used for impeachment purposes only.

Most, if not all, municipal and justice courts in Mississippi do not provide a court reporter for their proceedings.  This is because they process hundreds of small cases per week, and it would not be cost effective for the city or county to pay for a court reporter to transcribe each little domestic dispute, speeding ticket, or minor misdemeanor that comes before the court.  But your case is not “each little case.”  Your case is VERY IMPORTANT to you, and so if you spend the money to hire me as your lawyer we are going to treat it like it may wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Every word that is said is important, and so I usually record every contested trial I have in municipal or justice court.  I have even been known to show up with my own court reporter on occasion.

Tools of the trade

What you see above is my Christmas present to myself last year.  I used to have a little voice recorder just like you can get at Office Depot that is used to transcribe letters, but I found that it was not clearly picking up everything in the courtroom.  After I little research I got the “Zoom H1″ digital recorder pictured above, with its high-quality recording capability.  It is not very big, but now when I place it on the witness stand I have no problem getting good audio from the witness, from the judge, or from the attorneys.  Plus I like to think that those gnarly-looking microphones sticking out of  the top will put people on notice that we mean business when we come to court.

I use the recorder fairly frequently in DUI trials, domestic violence cases, and any other situations where testimony is important, the likelihood of appeal is high if if we lose, and the need for impeachment evidence is strong.  I have heard rumors that some courts have chastised lawyers for whipping out a recorder in court, but so far all of the courts in which I have appeared have not had any problem with it.  If you are headed to trial in a lower court in Mississippi you and your lawyer need to consider recording the proceedings, and you need to be prepared for it.