In May 2020, a Texas court held the nation’s first jury trial via Zoom.
Magna Legal Services held a panel discussion, “Viability of Virtual Jury Trials”, which featured Judge Emily Miskel, who presided over that case, as well as the Civil Jury Project and other expert panelists, as we explore the plausibility of virtual trials.
View the video above to watch our panelists debate the pros and cons of remote trials, and explain in practical terms how these virtual proceedings have actually been carried out.
• Judge Emily Miskel, 470th District Court, Collin County, TX
• Judge Mark A. Drummond, Circuit Court Judge, 8th Judicial Circuit of Illinois (Retired); Judicial Director, Civil Jury Project
• Christine Carbo Marziotti, Senior Litigation Counsel, Phillips 66
• Jeffrey Tillotson, Esq., Founder, Tillotson Law
• Daniel Wolfe, J.D., Ph.D., Senior Director of Jury Consulting, Magna Legal Services
• Terrell W. Oxford, Esq. Partner, Susman Godfrey LLP
• Peter Hecht, Partner & Executive VP of Sales, Magna Legal Services
• Canby Wood, Esq., Business Development Manager, Magna Legal Services
You asked, we answered!
Here’s some questions that viewers raised during the program:
Are jurors ok with just using a smartphone in the virtual environment? Can they see exhibits? What about running out of battery and data on their plan?
A: Yes, most of the jurors used a desktop, laptop or tablet but can use a smart phone if needed. They can see exhibits but understandably they will be harder to see given the size of the screen on most smart phones as compared to a computer, and we heard about exhibits being presented in couple different ways: through a document sharing application as well as through screen sharing. If jurors are using a smart phone we encourage them to have their charger handy so they can keep their phone charged, and if they are not using an unlimited data plan we encourage them to access wifi.
Will this virtual jury selection make it more likely for people with the proper access and data to be called for this type of jury duty?
A: Jury selection will still be conducted as it always has through the Jury Plan in each jurisdiction. However, having access to technology and data is one of the biggest concerns to ensuring a representative cross-section of jurors for virtual jury trials.
How can we ensure that the jurors and/or parties are not messaging each other in private messages?
How can we ensure the jurors are not attending the trial on one screen and googling the issues being presented on another screen or their phone, and essentially introducing extraneous evidence and biases into their deliberation process?
Furthermore, should the deliberation process be recorded and have it be available to the court for an in camera review in case of a juror misconduct complaint?
A: The thought is that regardless of whether the trial is being held in a building or virtually, these are human nature issues and they exist in both environments and should be addressed the same way: jurors are admonished and trusted unless evidence is produced otherwise. Also you can tell by watching the participants on zoom whether they are paying attention and focused on the trial, their behavior can be watched and there are tools to determine whether they are focused and participating.
What was used and the process of showing exhibits, arguing for and against the admissibility, and eventually publishing to the jury?
A: Document sharing sites were agreed to in advance and used. And it was important to make sure there was an “IT quarterback” who managed documents as well as participants moving in and out of “rooms”.
Did you find the jury voir dire to take a comparable amount of time or significantly longer/shorter?
A: The process was actually more efficient but did not significantly differ than what would have likely occurred if in person.
Have any of your pandemic-era trials been hybrid with the attorneys and jury live and all or some witnesses remote?
A: Yes, and it’s the worst of both worlds. It required a lot of set up in advance to ensure technology for both, ensure social distancing, etc. Better to either do completely remotely, or all in-person.
Do we have any data that would help evaluate how long a juror could stay focused during a trial that goes beyond a few days?
A: Mr. Tillotson will be releasing the data from his survey projects in July and this is one of the issues he will address.
Question to Christine Carbo Marziotti, do you think there is anything appealable based on process?
A: Yes, on due process grounds.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in!
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