Monday, November 02, 2020

Dallas County to Begin Summoning Jurors for Hybrid Virtual and In-Person Jury Trials

By Chris Littell

 

Dallas County recently mailed 2,000 jury summonses  to residents as part of the inaugural hybrid model of virtual jury selection and in-person jury trials, according to state District Judge Maricela Moore.  The first test case, to take place in early November, will be a one-day civil trial involving a car accident.

 

Civil Trial

In a typical year, Texas would have more than 5,000 jury trials between March and September, according to statistics from the Texas Office of Court Administration. However, in that time frame for 2020, only 45 trials have taken place.  This reduction is creating a backlog, and the courts are hoping virtual options will increase the number of trials the courts are able to hold.

One of the biggest concerns going into these hybrid trial experiments is ensuring that the juries will accurately represent the citizens of Dallas who would normally be on a panel. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 42% of Dallas households lack access to high-speed internet connections, and not every juror will have a tablet or computer capable of attending the virtual proceedings.  Dallas County hopes to counter this problem by having constables drop off tablets on the day of jury duty and picking them back up again at the end of the day.

Once a jury is selected, the trial itself would take place in-person at the courthouse. The court staff, attorneys, and jurors will be required to wear masks, have their temperatures checked, and answer questions about possible COVID-19  exposures. For 12-juror cases, 6 would be seated in the jury box and the other 6 in the courtroom’s gallery.

Even with all of these measures being taken, the process will undoubtably have bumps in the road.  Making sure jurors are always paying attention, staying away from news sites or other outside sources of information about the trial, and just getting jurors to answer the summonses will all be problematic as these experimental procedures are tested. However, the backlog facing the jury system in Texas and across the country is going to require creative solutions to ensure that citizens receive their rights to a jury trial.

 

Criminal Trial

Criminal  trials are not yet beginning under this hybrid model, although the courts hope to begin some by the end of the year. Additional hurdles in criminal litigation make it even more difficult, and more critical, to judging the credibility of witnesses.

 

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