Could Zoom Jury Trials Become the Norm

May 27, 2020

As criminal courts grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, some in the legal industry wonder whether a virtual jury trial could be next. As Zoom becomes a regular fixture in courts, some are concerned that virtual trials would deprive defendants of the constitutional right to confront witnesses.

Another procedure defendants take for granted, is conferring quietly with their lawyers during their trials. That’s one of the reasons Abner Burnett, director of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Public Defenders, is opposed to virtual jury trials.

“If you set up a situation where the client’s access to his or her attorney is through video, then a lot of the assurance that comes from being in close proximity with a lawyer—and the ability to think and act on the spot—is decreased,” Burnett says.

Burnett says there is a “strong push” in Texas to begin trials by videoconference, and he fears they will become permanent. He says he doesn’t have a single client in jail “that doesn’t want out” or isn’t worried about being exposed to COVID-19.

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