Nov 10

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State of the State Courts Survey

Survey says: Public supports remote hearings as a ‘new normal’

NCSC’s latest survey of public opinion, conducted last month, finds that a majority of respondents believe that courts should continue to hold hearings by video because it allows them to hear more cases and resolve cases more quickly, and it makes it easier for people to participate without traveling to a courthouse, taking time off work and finding childcare.

“The survey shows increased enthusiasm for remote services, and that enthusiasm was there before the pandemic. It has just been accelerated,” said Jesse Rutledge, NCSC’s vice president for External Affairs and the project lead. He also noted that, across the questions, age emerges as one of the clear differentiators. Support for technology solutions is largely driven by younger Americans, while older Americans are hesitant to have remote hearings replace in-person ones.

Rutledge pointed to a question on “appearing remotely for a case you had before the court.”

When NCSC first asked about this in 2014, a majority said they still preferred in-person. That number has now flipped, with a majority saying they would use a remote option if it were offered.

This year’s survey also finds that large numbers of respondents indicate that barriers to getting to a physical courthouse exist, including a remarkable 49 percent who indicated that the distance they would need to travel to reach their courthouse would be a problem for them.

The annual survey also benchmarks public trust and confidence from year to year. Findings for 2021 indicate that public trust in the courts and other institutions is waning. The pollster, GBAO Strategies, noted in its analysis of the survey results that “all of the research we have conducted over the last several months has demonstrated declining confidence in the direction of the country and virtually all of its institutions.” In this year’s survey, 64 percent of respondents said they had either a great deal of confidence or some confidence in their state courts, down from a high of 76 percent in 2018.

The State of the State Courts survey has been conducted annually since 2014. The survey questionnaire is developed by GBAO Strategies, in consultation with a steering committee of court leaders and NCSC staff. This year’s poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters by telephone and online between October 12-16. Read a comprehensive analysis of this year’s survey on NCSC’s website, and follow this link to see survey results dating to 2016.

New pandemic resource sheds light on a thorny question

The U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees, among other things, the criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” But what if his case is being heard in a remote hearing?

The Pandemic Rapid Response Team has recently released a new resource that addresses that question.

This resource focuses on identified state court record-making considerations for confrontation objections in remote proceedings. There generally should be no confrontation problem when the parties agree to remote participation. But a careful record can be critical for appellate review if a defendant does not consent to a remote proceeding.