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Washington Remote Jury Trials Workgroup releases Best Practices in Response to Frequently Asked Questions

July 28, 2021

The Washington State Remote Jury Trials Workgroup has produced Best Practices in Response to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) covering remote jury trials in light of continuing challenges by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The workgroup's goal is to help courts analyze issues with remote jury trials and recommend best practices for them.

The central premise is that remote jury trials must be structured around inclusivity. All involved: parties, lawyers, judges, and prospective jurors all need quality broadband internet, as well as the requisite hardware and software along with the required training to ensure that remote trials satisfy constitutional, statutory, and court rule requirements.

The Washington workgroup covers conceptual questions such as how courts should decide whether to hold remote jury trials and if civil and criminal cases are equally amenable to remote jury trials. Technology, logistical, and questions regarding the presentation of witnesses and evidence.

An example of a technology requirement is how can the court protect the public’s right to an open and public trial.  Measures include public notices in multiple languages as well as considering a broadcast service of proceedings to the community from which recordings could be made.

Logistical questions regarding jurors include who runs voir dire, how can the court and counsel connect with jurors during remote voir dire, and how can the court make sure jurors are paying attention to proceedings.

Witness presentation measures cover methods to ensure no one else is present in the same room as the juror, plus reminding jurors of their oaths and the penalties for violating them. Evidence in the form of documents can be shared with jurors through a Dropbox type of service, or through screen sharing.

The National Center’s Center for Jury Studies has additional resources to help courts through the remote jury trial process. These include Jurors and the New Media: Filling Knowledge Gaps for Judicial and Legal Policymakers and several webinars on managing juries and jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic including Reestablishing Jury Pools in the COVID-19 Era to name a few examples.

Also available is Constitutional Concerns Related to Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Technology Options for Jury Trials and Grand Jury Proceedings covering issues that pose significant practical and legal challenges for courts. The goal of these resources is to set forth established legal standards that apply broadly to American jury trials.

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How is your court implementing technologies to improve the virtual hearings? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences!

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.