COVID-19 and Jury Trials via Zoom

Man participating in a Zoom jury trial.

As the U.S. prepares for what could be a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, many states are once again asking themselves if they’re able to keep businesses open or if another shutdown and quarantine is imminent. If this were to happen it would once again have an impact on the criminal justice system. So what exactly would this mean for the future of jury trials and how would it impact a defendant’s right to a speedy trial? Believe it or not, one possibility that has been thrown around within some courts is Zoom. 

Zoom is a video-conferencing software that gained popularity during the beginning of quarantine as a method for connecting to multiple people at once. Not only has it been leveraged for company meetings, holidays, and even weddings, but also recently by the state of Texas. 

While the verdict of that case won’t be binding and the case was one of civil – not criminal – law, many have hailed the app as a good substitute for criminal trials too; any jury trial.  

The Constitutionality of Zoom for Criminal Trials

Although Zoom has been great for accomplishing many things, using it as a method for conducting jury trials is problematic at best and downright unconstitutional at worst. 

The Right to Confront Witnesses

For starters, the use of Zoom would violate the right to confront witnesses. How exactly would cross-examination work via Zoom? Could it be construed as equal to the same as traditional in-person opportunities?

The Credibility of Witnesses

Often criminal cases rest on the credibility and believability of witnesses. The jury will take notice of things such as body language, facial expressions, and voice intonation. While not always easy to do while in the same room as someone, it would become that much harder to do through a screen. 

Physical Evidence Unable to be Digitized

Certain evidence in criminal cases is crucial. When coming to a decision, jurors often require the ability to touch or hold the evidence and inspect it in close proximity. Unfortunately, there are certain types of physical evidence that can’t be digitized while still maintaining their value. 

Ability of Counsel to Effectively Assist Clients

Every defendant is entitled to attorney representation by a competent lawyer. When an attorney can’t even be in the same as his or her client, it makes it much harder for him or her to effectively assist them and much easier for defendants to argue ineffective assistance of counsel as a means for appeal. 

Problem with Juror Impartiality

Courts take various measures to make sure that the opinion of jurors is not influenced by outside factors. In the courtroom, jurors are not permitted to use their phones or partake in multi-tasking. But without being in the same room as the jury the court would have difficulty ensuring that these measures are kept in place. Additionally, they could easily look at the news or the Internet, which could easily sway their findings. 

Technical Issues

As long as man is imperfect, so too will technology be. In other words, while some Zoom sessions go off without a hitch, there is nothing that can guarantee that this will always be the case. If audio and/or video were to cut out at any time during the trial it can have a major impact on the case – especially if it occurs during valuable testimony. 

For these reasons and more, it seems that using Zoom for jury trials in the future would be unconstitutional. We’ll just have to wait and see how the courts deal with all of these issues moving forward. 

Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC Help Those in VA Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, it can have a big impact on your life, affecting you long-term. That is why you deserve an experienced Criminal Defense attorney who understands the law and knows how to best defend you.

At Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC, we understand what’s at stake and will work hard to have your charges lowered or even dismissed. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Criminal Law