“…You can’t handle the truth!” If you’re a movie fan, then you probably recognize this line from the 1992 blockbuster, A Few Good Men. Of course, Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) delivered the line in response to Lt. Daniel Kaffee’s (Tom Cruise) questioning in that tense courtroom scene. But in the real world, what happens when a loud outburst like this takes place…in a Courtroom, in a Judge’s Chambers, or in a Jury Room? How is that sound stopped from transmitting into adjacent rooms and hallways? The unfortunate truth is that in many cases, it’s not.
Often the sensitive nature of Courtroom communication is compromised by poor noise isolation within the court facility itself, and information that is meant to be private and confidential can be heard outside the area in which it is meant to be heard. The level of noise isolation in a given courtroom is directly connected to the design and construction of the building itself. Most modern day Courtrooms aren’t the dramatic marble and stone column filled rooms depicted in the movies. Many of today’s Courtrooms are constructed of gypsum wallboard or wood paneling, and often that’s all that separates one Courtroom from the next.
Noise isolation in a courthouse needs to be a major design consideration when project planning begins. Judges Chambers, Jury Deliberation Rooms, Courtrooms, and Holding Areas all need to have the appropriate noise isolation to ensure privacy and confidentiality and to minimize disruption. Imagine yourself as a Juror trying to explain your understanding of the case to your fellow Jurors during deliberation; would you be as open and honest if you thought that people outside the room could hear you? Of course not! And this type of scenario can happen anywhere in the courthouse. Clearly, proper noise isolation is paramount in the highly confidential world of Courtroom litigation.
Another important consideration is exterior noise penetrating into the building. Common questions to ask are: Is the courthouse located in the path of aircraft arriving and departing from a major airport? How close is the courthouse to major expressways and thoroughfares? How close are major rail lines and railroad crossings? Are there any emergency services nearby, such as Police Stations or Firehouses?
Proper noise isolation levels are specified in the Design Standards for U.S. Court Facilities document (aka, the GSA-9). The document goes on to recommend that project teams include an acoustical consultant to ensure that distractions are minimized and privacy is maximized. Designers must be take great care to ensure proper privacy levels are achieved throughout the courthouse. Because in many courtrooms, it’s not just the lawyers who “can’t handle the truth”, it’s the rooms themselves.