THE AMERICAN JURY TRIAL: THE WAY FORWARD
The courts closing all around the country was jarring to many of us in litigation and litigation support. Since our jury consulting firm opened in 1978, it had never happened. As of this writing, courts around the country are weighing their options on how they can get on with the essential process of delivering justice. Jury deliberations in New York have taken place with one of the jurors participating remotely. Socially distant jury trials are currently underway in Portland, Oregon, for criminal matters. In Texas, a Summary Trial was held in a civil matter and every participant was remote. The entire process from jury selection to verdict was done virtually.
Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, but one thing appears clear, the way forward involves creative solutions to complex problems and technology. To take the position that the only way to conduct jury trials is the way we have always done them, likely pushes back the docket until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, which is unlikely for at least a year. In many jurisdictions it is felt that this is an unacceptably long time to put constitutional rights on pause, particularly when many of the approaches that some are taking are off to a good start. Court administrators cite the practical problem of the enormous backlog of trials when the wheels of justice start turning more quickly.
I am part of a group of experienced practitioners and researchers that is helping advise on the path forward–the Online Courtroom Project, “Online Courtroom Project (“OCP”) is an advisory task force on the psychological, behavioral, communication, and technical elements of online courtroom operations for criminal and civil matters. The OCP provides research and recommendations to the courts and the legal profession to improve the efficacy of online operations in all aspects of the criminal and civil litigation process, including but not limited to, pre-trial, alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”), and trial.”
The mission of the OCP is, “to preserve criminal and civil litigants’ Constitutional rights to a trial through the use of innovations, reforms, and technology. The OCP will serve as a resource for and engage in dialogue with the judiciary and legal associations, to develop best practices based on what we currently know, and to design and execute research to find out what we need to know.”
In the coming months, the OCP will be advising courts and working with other legal organizations as well as conducting our own research to bolster the body of existing knowledge. If you are interested in learning more, please visit https://www.onlinecourtroom.org/. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.