Zoom Jury
Reinkensmeyer says some of the changes may stick. “Let’s leverage some of the new technology, some of the lessons learned, to continue into the future,” he said. “To me, that’s the silver lining maybe in this time of crisis -- that we can improve court access and efficiencies.”

But it remains to be seen how far technology can be pushed. A county court in Texas recently took a crack at holding a jury trial by Zoom in an insurance dispute that had been delayed from March. More than two dozen prospective jurors logged in remotely on May 18 for a selection process that was live-streamed on YouTube. The one-day proceeding delivered a non-binding verdict designed to guide mediated settlement talks.

But Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman said he didn’t see that working for a criminal trial. “A defendant has a right to be present in court but there are also confrontation rights -- there is an understanding that the jury can see the defendant and the defendant can see the jury in a courtroom that can’t be easily reconciled with a Zoom or virtual trial,” said Richman.

In France, jury trials, typically held only for violent crimes, are due to restart on June 2. But Pierre Reynaud, an official with the Paris appeals court, said the French judiciary is considering transferring cases carrying maximum sentences of 20 years or less to non-jury proceedings. Those guidelines would cover the vast majority of jury trials in France, he said.

Judge Trials
A categorical shift like that wouldn’t be possible in the U.S. and U.K., where those accused of all but minor crimes have a right to jury trials they would need to waive. Some debate has emerged in Britain about possibly allowing the choice of a criminal trial decided by a judge. Prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has argued for such a move, saying some defendants, particularly those who have been vilified in the press, may find judge trials fairer.

But prominent figures have pushed back against the idea, stressing the importance of juries to the British sense of justice. These include the chief judge for England and Wales. “I would hope that parliament would take a deep breath before authorizing judge-only trials, even temporarily,” Lord Burnett recently told a parliamentary committee.

Jury trials have already started again in the U.K., and their experience could guide Rode and others planning their resumption in the U.S. One major case in London’s Old Bailey was spread across three courtrooms, with one serving as a replacement for the jury’s formerly cramped deliberation room and another, connected by audio feed, serving as the gallery for press and other observers. Arguments were presented from the witness stand to make sure all the jurors could see.

The judge also found the perfect space for lawyers to sit -- the jury box.

--With assistance from Gaspard Sebag and Ellen Milligan.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

First « 1 2 » Next