Are Virtual Criminal Trials The Way Of The Future?

Are Virtual Criminal Jury Trials The Way Of The Future?

by Aug 13, 2020

With no end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, it was only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, decided to experiment with a virtual criminal jury trial. This week, judge Nicholas Chu in Travis County, Texas, presided over the first virtual criminal jury trial in the country. And surprisingly, it went pretty well overall.

Justice Via Zoom

Because of cramped courthouses and an inability to hold enough criminal jury trials in person, a low-stakes traffic violation trial was used for the experiment. Judge Chu got the approval of the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the defendant prior to moving forward.

The entire trial, from jury selection through the verdict, was held virtually with all participants using the popular Zoom video conferencing software to appear remotely.

While there were a few minor hiccups in the process (one juror was chastised for not paying attention, and another juror’s internet connection seems to have failed, forcing the court to replace them), the experiment seems to have been a resounding success overall.

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Will This Experiment Spread To Other States?

While trials involving major crimes will almost certainly still be reserved for in-court proceedings, it does seem likely that the success of this trial will encourage other states to experiment as well.

In highly populated states and cities all over the country, court systems are struggling to dig themselves out of massive backlogs of cases. Not only does conducting virtual criminal jury trials give courts a way to start catching up, it may prove to be a more effective way of handling trials for lesser offenses even after the pandemic subsides.

While there have been no announcements about attempting virtual criminal trials here in Sonoma County as of yet, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. As new cases of COVID-19 continue to spike all throughout California, court systems across the state will likely be forced to find alternative solutions to in-court trials sooner rather than later.


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