Do You Want a Remote Jury? Maybe Not.
Although the courthouse continues to function virtually for hearings and non-jury matters, one thing has changed as a result of the COVID 19 crisis: Jury trials. In-person jury selection and trials have ceased since the pandemic began. If you have a case where you would normally want or have the right to a jury trial, it may be time to think about whether you want to keep that right, or waive it.
Pilot Remote Jury Program
There is a remote jury pilot program that was started by the Florida Supreme Court, and local courts in Broward and Miami have experimented with the program. But there is no one report on how successful the program is, the satisfaction of the participants or whether it is a viable alternative to in person juries.
The good news is that business and commercial litigation cases rarely go to trial, and many of them are bench (judge only) trials. That means the inability to access a jury may not affect a business law case as much as other types of cases.
Still, our constitution provides the right to a jury, as do our civil rules. A party has the right to waive that right, a right that ordinarily should not be waived unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. Is a virtual jury compelling?
Problems With Virtual Juries
There are drawbacks to jurors sitting at home, listening to the trial through zoom or some other medium. The process is less engaging; the juries do not feel or see the emotion, and are not immersed in the courtroom the way they would be in person. How does a juror evaluate the credibility or genuineness of a witness who is wearing a mask, as witnesses in court would be required to wear?
Technological issues may create problems for some jurors, who may not have access to the hardware, or the internet access speed that is needed. What happens when one juror loses internet access? Does the trial stop?
There is also the risk of distraction. Jurors at home could conceivably have the TV or youtube in the background. They may have kids at home. Their attention is simply not 100% on the trial the way it would be in person.
Another risk is that jurors could communicate with one another before the trial is over. Normally, jurors are not to talk about the case with anyone—including with each other—until the case is concluded and it is time to deliberate. However, there is nothing to stop jurors from chatting or messaging each other during the trial.
Online Jury Selection
One option, which was used in Miami, is doing the selection of the jury at home, and then having the selected jurors appear in person, given that there are fewer jurors selected (6 to 12, depending on the case) than there are jurors in the entire jury pool.
Call the West Palm Beach commercial litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig for help litigating, defending or trying, your business law case.