In Nation’s First Virtual Jury Trial, We Learn Some Things

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In Nation’s First Virtual Jury Trial, We Learn Some Things

In Collin County, Texas this week, 12 jurors were selected and rendered verdicts in one day. Virtuwave Holdings sued State Farm Lloyds for allegedly failing to cover damages caused by a hailstorm. It was a summary jury trial in which jury selection was conducted by way of video conferencing with over two dozen citizens who logged in using computerized devices. Once 12 persons were selected, evidence was presented in a courtroom to two panels of 6 jurors, who patched in remotely. Under Texas law, the final verdicts were advisory (and, in this case, polar opposites). From this, we learned a few things. Technical glitches are to be expected. Like jurors at the courthouse, home-bound jurors sometimes wander off during recesses. The trial also offered a peek into the attitudes of citizens about serving during a pandemic. After the trial, jurors asked about their experience, including whether they would have been willing to appear in person if they had been told to report for a trial at the courthouse. The jurors split on this question, with 1/3 saying that they would have requested to be deferred, another third saying they would have appeared, and the last 1/3 noncommittal. All-in-all, the jurors were very positive about the experience. Several of them had previously served as trial jurors, and they noted that they were able to see the documents (emails, appraisals, cost estimates, etc.) much better when they were shared on the videoconference screen than when similar evidence had been presented in live trials.

And There’s More to Learn—Today NCSC Hosts Free Webinar on Post-Pandemic Jury Trials

As noted in last week’s Jur-E Bulletin, at 3 p.m. (ET) today we host a panel discussion focusing on state and local efforts to resume jury trials and grand jury proceedings. Panelists will explore the development and implementation of new policies to manage jurors and jury trials, the experience of courts in pilot tests of remote jury trials and grand jury proceedings, and innovative ways to ensure social distancing and other public health and safety measures with prospective jurors. To register, click here.

Age Discrimination in Grand Jury Composition—Grounds for Murder Conviction Reversal?

The Louisiana Supreme Court is being called upon to evaluate whether a murder indictment was the unlawful product of a grand jury that was intentionally not representative of persons who are between 18 and 25 years of age.

Minnesota Judge Seals Jury Info in High-Profile Case

After a Minneapolis jury convicted former police officer Mohamed Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on April 30, the Star Tribune newspaper and a TV broadcasting company are now asking the trial judge to release of the names of the jurors. The newspaper lawyer argued, “What the media is trying to do is give the public insight to how the criminal justice system works, to how juries work.” Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance countered, “We have increasing difficulty having jurors to serve at all, particularly in this type of case.” She also noted that Noor’s jurors told her they were concerned about being “hounded” during the trial and now knowing that their names, jobs, and personal information could be made public might scare away future jurors.

Ireland Considering Use of Hotel Ballrooms and Theatres for Jury Selections When Trials Resume in September

The Irish Independent newspaper in Belfast reports that the Irish Court Services Department is coordinating with the Bar of Ireland to create smart logistics for the return of jury trials. To promote public safety, they are considering not only large venues near courthouses for voir dire, but also courtroom modifications for the presentation of evidence to petit jurors in courtrooms. Jury boxes may be outfitted with plexiglass dividers between jurors, and empty courtrooms may serve as jury deliberation rooms.

Judiciary Committee Passes Bill to Change Batson Procedures in California

Earlier this month, by an 8-to-3 vote margin, the Committee approved Assembly Bill 3070 that would spell out detailed steps a trial judge must take whenever a Batson challenge is raised. The bill includes a provision stating, “A peremptory challenge for any of [several enumerated] reasons is presumed to be invalid unless the party exercising the peremptory challenge can show by clear and convincing evidence that the rationale is unrelated to a prospective juror’s race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation.” The legislation next goes to the Committee on Appropriations for a vote. If it eventually becomes law, it will take effect in January 2021.