Virtual jury trials have become a hot topic of conversation since COVID-19 made close quarters, in-person gatherings difficult and unsafe. Because criminal cases often require a twelve person-jury, the courts have begun assessing this new situation and discussing how to have a fair jury trial while abiding by CDC guidelines.
The Civil Jury Project at NYU School of Law has posted a report written by Stephanie Parker and Jennifer Weizenecker, who both attended a recent virtual mock trial that was held via Zoom and hosted by the Civil Jury Project. In the report titled “Suggestions for Remote “Zoom” Jury Selection,” the authors discuss panel size, jury selection questionnaires, technology issues, time limits, instructions for the jury, and more. It’s an informative report describing specific issues for this new, online environment that need to be considered in order to improve virtual jury trials.
Parker and Weizenecker suggest the following areas for improvement:
Currently, there is not a remote platform designed for jury trials. It is our understanding that the Civil Jury Project at NYU Law School has contacted Zoom urging the design of an intuitive, user-friendly, litigation/trial specific platform resembling a real courtroom. Here are some additional suggestions related to the design of that platform:
- As stated above, allow the locking in of juror position on the screen;
- As stated above, put limitations on the chat function;
- Ability of judge (host) to control what participants see on their screen instead of participants using individual settings, so that everyone sees the same thing on their screens;
- Objection button for counsel to object, which would eliminate the need for counsel to verbally interrupt in front of the jury;
- Integration of documents with the platform including: impeachment folders, exhibit folders, and verdict form;
- Better capabilities for interaction with demonstrative aids, especially when using PowerPoint.
Although the mock Zoom jury trial and report do not specifically address criminal cases, the lessons learned can be useful for improving most virtual jury trials.