We are a couple months into remote hearings before Judges’ and while it is not a perfect system it resembles the hearing that were being conducted prior to Covid.
On the other hand, jury trials have effectively come to a stop, and it’s difficult to see a way forward barring the disappearance of Covid.
Travis County has experimented with a few jury trials, and the problems were as expected. Below is a non-exclusive list of the issues:
First and foremost was consistent Internet connection. A jury trial requires at a minimum least 21 separate Internet connections (2 lawyers, 1 judge, 1 court reporter, 2 lawyers, 2 clients, 1 witness, 12 jurors) to be functioning without issue. If one fails the trial needs to stop until each one is working.
Jurors need to learn the zoom technology. There are simply lots of prospective jurors with no zoom experience to know the ins and outs of the mute button, turning the video on and off, and logging in. Excluding jurors who do not have these skills inevitably leads to a less diverse jury pool.
Jurors are managing all the other issues that the general population is during Covid. Is it fair to a juror to listen to evidence while they assist their child with remote learning? Or care of a young child who walks in on the jury trial.
Should jurors have to publicly disclose personal information on youtube? All the trials are subject to the open courts laws which has meant they are streamed. When picking a jury, lawyers ask about personal experiences. This can often involve jurors disclosing prior domestic violence, criminal cases, and their own divorce. Who wants to do that.
In short, it’s hard to see a way forward with remote jury trials.