On Monday, Texas became the first state in the nation to present a trial before a virtual jury. The groundbreaking legal move follows Emory Law School’s jury trial class, which allowed its students to take its final exam via Zoom on April 17. Many Georgia counties have been using videoconferencing for their hearings since April, when the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the closure of the courts, with the exception of certain hearings and bond motions.
Emory Law School found that the trial by Zoom, with real judges and facts from an actual case, had real benefits. Objections were handled in a more orderly manner by raising “objection paddles.” The attorneys and judges could see themselves, which made everyone more self-aware of facial expressions. Sequestration was a cinch as Zoom allows you to place participants in a virtual waiting room with the push of a button. The same can be said of the judge needing a break, to confer with the bailiff or attorneys — simply push a button and the jurors are in the virtual waiting room.
Texas had more than 24 potential jurors log in, who were then guided on selection by two judges. Decades of potential jurors going to the courthouse were turned on its head as the courthouse virtually came to the jurors. As with depositions handled by Zoom, basic instructions were given about background noise and the need for privacy from the rest of the household.
In neither instance did videoconferencing have a negative effect on the proceedings. No technical hiccup was noted. In fact, Zoom capabilities gave all parties the convenience of doing their civic duty from home, without having to deal with morning traffic, the headaches of parking and the general stress and frustration of reporting to the courthouse.
While teleconferencing and videoconferences have been used for various proceedings, no Georgia court has yet announced plans for a jury trial by Zoom as of this date. However, we are clearly on track to follow Texas’ lead, at least with regard to its non-binding jury verdict.
To view a portion of Texas’ virtual jury trial, see this YouTube link.
For EGCR’s tutorial on Zoom meetings, see this YouTube link.
For tips on keeping your caseloads moving during COVID-19, see this article.