Is Zoom the Right Place for Criminal Cases?

The pandemic has complicated our lives in several ways—and changes to how the court system works is no exception. In order to keep Texas residents safe in the wake of COVID-19, the Texas Judicial Branch has moved court activities online, allowing cases to be conducted via Zoom in order to ensure that defendants get their cases heard in a timely manner. While this is a convenient option that promotes effective social distancing, is it effective? The jury’s still out.

The Challenges of Zoom Court Hearings

While the state’s intentions were good when it enacted the ability to hold hearings on Zoom, there have been some unintended consequences that may cause problems for defendants. The following are some of those issues.

Technical Problems

The Internet makes our lives easier in many ways, but it’s not without its share of glitches. However, usually, when your Internet goes down, the consequences aren’t necessarily that serious. But when it comes to criminal cases, internet technical difficulties can disrupt testimony, make it difficult for jurors to follow the evidence, and even result in recordings of the case being lost. This raises serious questions about whether or not someone can receive a fair trial or gain a successful appeal.

Representation Challenges

When you’ve been charged with a crime, your freedom depends on your lawyer’s ability to defend you effectively. But with virtual criminal cases, questions have come up about whether or not defendants can get a fair trial over the Internet. During a court case, people are generally able to easily communicate with their attorneys because they are sitting next to each other at the table. However, conducting Zoom trials may actually hinder the ability of attorneys to communicate with their clients, thus possibly making it more difficult to help them.

Jury Issues

Having an impartial jury is the bedrock of the criminal justice system. However, in a courtroom, it’s much easier to monitor whether or not jurors are remaining impartial. If jurors are watching the trial at home, there is no guarantee that they aren’t being influenced by something outside of court—or even paying attention to what’s going on in the trial at all. There’s no way of knowing if jurors are spending their time during the case surfing the web or talking to someone in their homes about the testimony.

The Pros of Zoom Court Hearings

Although conducting court hearings via the Internet has created challenges in criminal cases, there are also some advantages of handling cases on Zoom. Some of these pros include:

  • The ability for cases to go through the courts in a timely manner because dockets are not grinding to a halt because of coronavirus restrictions.
  • The convenient alternative to traveling to court and dealing with the challenges of finding parking and going through long security lines.
  • The technology forces witnesses to make eye contact for long periods of time, which allows judges and jurors to better make assessments about their credibility.

Get a Consultation With an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you've been charged with a crime, it's imperative that you get help from an attorney that is able to navigate the case, whether it is conducted on Zoom or in person. Contact Granger and Mueller PC today for a free consultation to find out what your rights and options are.