Trial by Zoom: Pros & Cons
COVID-19 has taken a lot of things: Lives, livelihoods and many in-person court proceedings. Quarantine has not only impacted employment rates and people’s sanity, but it forced countless courts across California to close temporarily. While health and safety are number one, your freedom is, too.
Unfortunately, jury trials and many other court processes have been suspended and delayed, resulting in countless defendants awaiting their hearing with no known court date. Luckily, many courts are conducting motion and evidentiary hearings via video conferencing.
Despite the benefits of having an alternative to in-person hearings, there are also downfalls. As such, let’s examine both sides:
- Reducing travel time: You don’t have to deal with traveling to court, finding parking and going through security. These elements consume a lot of time, and they don’t even include the court proceedings themselves. It’s important to note that some courts may have rules regarding where participants can and can’t be during remote hearings, such as a moving vehicle.
Time is money, so by reducing the time involved in court hearings, participants can save money, which brings us to our next point.
- Save money: You don’t have to pay expenses that you normally would for an in-person court hearing. Parking fees, travel fees and litigation fees are some examples of things you don’t have to spend as much money, if any, on thanks to video conferencing.
- Convenient for everyone: Witnesses, attorneys, defendants, victims, judges and court officials can participate in court proceedings from the comfort of their own homes. While this is convenient, it’s also comfortable. Being in a courtroom setting can be quite intimidating, especially when there are many members of the public and media present. As a result, defendants may appear more nervous and “guilty” than they would via Zoom because of the pressure and anxiety they may feel in an in-person court hearing.
- Lowers the spread of COVID-19: The entire purpose of video conference court hearings is to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, so by transitioning to this “new normal,” courts are technically saving lives, which is the greatest benefit of all.
- Lack of control: In an in-person courtroom setting, the judge has more control over cell phone use, talking in the spectator section, and conversations between both parties. Over video conferencing, however, the judge cannot exercise the same control that they otherwise would have in a courtroom setting.
Further, judges lose control over their ability to observe defendants’ behavior and mannerisms, such as fidgeting and shakiness. It’s arguably more difficult for judges to “read the room” which can impact the outcome of a case.
- Technical difficulties: Low bandwidth, unstable Wi-Fi and several electronics running at the same time could result in technical issues, which can cause delays, distractions and generally rob defendants of a fair court proceeding altogether.
- Confidentiality: In April 2020, it was reported that 500,000 Zoom accounts got hacked and passwords were posted on dark web crime forums. Thus, video conferencing via Zoom can pose threats to participants’ personal information, court information, crimes, and court hearing. In court proceedings, private information such as medical, employment, and education history can be disclosed, as well as humiliating details related to a defendant’s crime, in some cases.
- Limited media and public access: The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press, including access to court proceedings and records by the media and public. With video conferencing, however, many courts are not granting media and public access to court hearings, potentially infringing on people’s First Amendment rights.
Our lawyers stay up to date on best practices for video conferencing to help our clients experience fair and efficient court proceedings. COVID-19 is a fluid situation that poses many threats to criminal court proceedings, but no one’s future and freedom should suffer as a result. Thus, our attorneys are committed to pursuing justice on your behalf despite the untraditional court operations at this time.
We welcome you to contact us at (805) 467-6060 to learn more!