Turn on Your TV – Entire Online Jury Trials Will Be Live Streamed from Jacksonville, FL and Austin, TX

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Turn on Your TV – Entire Online Jury Trials Will Be Live Streamed from Jacksonville, FL and Austin, TX

We all can witness a pandemic-era civil jury trial from beginning to end next week.  Simply tune in to Courtroom Connect on Monday to follow a path toward a final verdict in Cayla Griffin v. Albanese Enterprise, Inc. “We are excited to draw on our experience with remote proceedings to help the court evaluate new possibilities during this time of pandemic,” said Luis Freitas, COO of Courtroom Connect. “We have live streamed hundreds of Florida trials; we look forward to helping with this new approach.”  On Tuesday, a misdemeanor online trial will be broadcast from Austin here.

Attorney Regrets Having a Live Jury Trial – “It Was Not Worth the Health Risks”

In mid-June, the U.S. District Court in Colorado decided to hold a “pilot” jury trial to evaluate whether and how to safely conduct in-person jury trials during the pandemic.  The parties in Altigen Communications v. CTI Communications LLC agreed to bring the copyright infringement/consumer protection to a live jury.  Last week the jury deliberated four hours on the third day of trial and rendered an award of $3,190 to plaintiff.  Law 360 reports that, after the verdict, Altigen’s attorney Harold Bruno III stated that, while he thought the trial was conducted in a safe manner, he felt it was too much to ask jurors to serve in-person during the pandemic.  "I still have some guilty feelings about that.  I'm a person who had COVID and about halfway through the trial I started feeling that it was wrong to bring the jurors in. It's too risky."  Bruno added that his bout with COVID-19 was the worst illness he's ever experienced and that he was hospitalized for four days. He said he has since made a full recovery.

Veteran Boston Litigator Stresses How Juries Perform Both a “Duty” and “Public Service”

James M. Doyle, of counsel to the firm Bassil & Budreau, passionately hopes that, when the pandemic emergency ends and jury trials resume, we will experience a fresh enthusiasm and understanding of citizen-based justice.  In his piece called "Can Jurors Save the Justice System?," he writes, “Criminal justice is run entirely by—and, so, pretty much entirely for—a population of legal-system careerists: judges, lawyers, clerks, cops. I’ve spent my long adult life among these people. They see justice as something they do for the people, never as something they do with the people….  They’ve made a mess of it. In the end, they’ve done their brand of justice to the people….  A key weapon in the insider’s toolbox is the 'trial tax.' The threats ratchet up the punishment (and/or the promises ratchet up the leniency) as the case moves along.  Plead guilty and you get six months (or three, or probation). Go to trial and lose and you will get five years (or ten, or 15)….  So, ban the trial tax, and let the community, through its jury members, decide the cases. Along the way to deciding the cases, jurors will witness and evaluate the law enforcement and prosecutorial practices on display. They will weigh defender performance. They will act on what they see, and they will take what they have witnessed home and share it.” (emphasis supplied)

Researchers Measure Citizen Confidence in Juries

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Michigan State University, and the University of Nevada-Reno have come up with a questionnaire called the JUST scale to measure citizen confidence in jury trials.  Some of the questions in the scale may be of use to litigators during voir dire to determine levels of trust in the jury system they are asked to participate in.  For court administrators, the legal news outlet Lexology posits, “As courts are unsteadily moving back to in-person jury trials, the many precautions that need to be layered over that system, and the reluctance of many to show up, … the JUST scale could be useful in gauging how citizens make it through the transition back to in-person trials.

Boston Marathon Bomber’s Death Penalty Thrown Out – Trial Judge Conducted Inadequate Voir Dire

The U.S. Appeals Court for the 1st Circuit vacated the death penalty sentence against confessed Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and ordered empanelment of a new jury for a re-sentencing.  The three-judge panel ruled that the trial judge had failed to empanel an impartial jury.  The appellate court stated, "The judge stopped Dzhokhar's counsel from asking prospective jurors questions like '[w]hat did you know about the facts of this case before you came to court today (if anything)?' … and '[w]hat stands out in your mind from everything you have heard, read[,] or seen about the Boston Marathon bombing and the events that followed it?'"   In another part of the opinion, the panel stated the District Court judge relied on "self-declarations of impartiality" by prospective jurors, calling that "an error of law and an abuse of discretion."

In commenting on the ruling, jury scholar Jeffrey Abramson underscores the judge’s refusal “to dismiss one prospective juror who posted on social media following Tsarnaev’s capture, ‘Congratulation to all . . . who worked so hard . . .to bring in that piece of garbage.’ This person made it onto the jury and served as foreperson. Another juror disobeyed instructions by posting to Facebook during jury selection and receiving back messages such as ‘If you're really on jury duty, this guy’s got no shot in hell.’ These examples show how social media complicate the issue of prejudicial media exposure.  As to more traditional press outlets, nine persons made it on to the jury without ever being individually questioned about what specifically they had been exposed to in the news. The judge simply took their word that they could put aside any preconceptions.  These jurors may have believed this about themselves. But the judge needed to be the one making the determination.”