What Jurors Think About Remote Mock Trials
Updated: May 14, 2021
In April 2020, Tsongas fielded its first remote jury research project. With news of lockdowns and restrictions in many states, we made a quick transition from a live, three-group, 30 person focus group in California to a Zoom-based, three group, 30 person project facilitated from our home offices. A year later, we have conducted 30 remote jury research projects, with more than 100 groups, and 1000 participants. We collected post-project evaluations from 899 of those participants. The responses are extremely positive. Mock jurors have consistently reported that they enjoyed the process, felt it ran smoothly, and would happily participate in a future remote project.
This feedback is consistent with the feedback actual jurors have reported after serving in a web-based trial. Across the country, courts that have held remote trials have learned that jurors found the process easy and satisfying. Among those, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman presided over two of the earliest Zoom trials in Washington State. In an interview, Judge Pechman notes that jurors were satisfied with the process. Tsongas also spoke with Administrative Director David Slayton and Executive Assistant Kelly Thibodeau from the Texas Office of Court Administration who reported that jurors favored the remote trial.
While an online, one-day mock trial project is shorter than a full-length trial, there are many similarities in the process. As part of our work with the Online Courtroom Project, we have had an inside look into how various courts are conducting online trials. Our mock trial process includes many of the same elements as an actual trial – logging in with a web-based platform, navigating the technology, alternating between various viewing formats, moving among breakout rooms, viewing video and documents, etc. So, while participation in an actual trial is longer, what we have learned about the satisfaction from our mock jurors should be telling about the satisfaction of actual jurors.
After the completion of each jury research project, we asked participants how satisfied they were overall with their participation in the project. On a five point scale with 5 being the highest rating, 95% of jurors reported their satisfaction level to be a 4 or 5. Five percent reported a medium level of satisfaction. None of our partcipants reported a low level of satisfaction.
We also asked participants about their experience in the remote setting. We asked about ease of participation and if they experienced any technical difficulties. Of the 899 people we surveyed, 99% reported that they found it was easy to prepare and sign-in for the mock trial.
One of the keys to our success has been our pre-project technical check. We do not wait until the day of the project to troubleshoot technical problems. Instead, we ask our mock jurors to participate in a 10-minute technical check within a dedicated timeslot the week before the research project. In that check we:
Confirm that jurors are on the device they will use and roughly in the place they will participate
Confirm audio and video works
Confirm jurors know how to turn on and off their camera and microphone
Teach them how to toggle between speaker view and gallery view
Teach them how to hide non-video participants
Test their bandwidth for video share
Explain how they will be moved among breakout rooms
Teach them how to use the chat box for survey links
Troubleshoot any issues that they have
We believe this process resulted in fewer reported technical difficulties than one might expect. Eighty-nine percent of the participants reported that they experienced no technical difficulties. Of those who reported problems, approximately half of those problems were with
internet connection. These mock jurors reported slow internet speeds on their end, which in most cases resulted in occasional lagging or freezing feeds. A small number of jurors reported that they were kicked out of the Zoom meeting unexpectedly, though several of those instances were weather-related power outages. The remaining technical issues were isolated instances on the user’s end such as cell phone batteries dying, computer spontaneously starting a software update, accidentally leaving the meeting, or headphones losing power. In most of these instances, jurors reported that the problems were temporary, easily resolved, and did not interrupt their participation. We have only lost a handful of jurors due to technical issues.
Technical issues are inevitable. But as evidenced from our 1000+ jurors, these problems are rare and in most cases, will not jeopardize the trial. Our advice, echoed by judges who have presided over remote trials -- expect technical problems, be patient, and most will resolve. Judges have reported that technical problems in a virtual trial are not more frequent than delays and disruptions that occur in physical trials.
Ninety-nine percent of our mock jurors told us they would participate again. The positive reactions from our mock jurors’ willingness to serve in online trials should be an encouraging sign to courts and trial attorneys. While there may be some hesitation to take a trial completely online, juror’s ability and willingness to serve should not be one of them.