Texas court holds jury trial in traffic crime case over Zoom

A Texas court has launched what the state says is the nation’s first virtual jury trial in a criminal case

DALLAS —
A Texas court has launched what the state says is the nation’s first virtual jury trial in a criminal case.

The case began Tuesday morning, with potential jurors popping onto the screen in a virtual Travis County courtroom before being separated out to complete surveys and receive training on how to use Zoom.

The misdemeanor traffic case is being broadcast live on YouTube and comes as the latest experiment in how to resume jury proceedings in a criminal justice system that’s been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’re here today for jury duty in a different way,” Judge Nicholas Chu said. “That’s jury duty by Zoom.”

Chu admonished the potential jurors that the unusual setting made their work no less serious. He warned them against using Google to search about the case or posting about it on social media, and asked for their patience with technological “hiccups.”

Nationwide, the virus has put many court cases on indefinite hold and left some defendants in jail longer, exposing them to possible outbreaks. It’s forced judges to try to manage hearings over video conference and even led the Supreme Court to hold oral arguments by phone for the first time in its history.

In Texas, fewer than 10 jury trials have been held since state courts resumed in-person proceedings in June, according to Megan LaVoie, a spokeswoman for the state individual branch. She Tuesday’s jury trial will be the first held virtually in an American criminal case.

Later in the day, the six jurors chosen through the virtual selection process are set to hear arguments and reach a verdict in the misdemeanor case of an Austin-area woman charged with speeding in a construction zone.

The case comes after another Texas court held an experimental jury trial in a civil case in May. But defense attorneys have raised constitutional and logistical concerns about e-court for criminal cases, where they already struggle to speak privately with their clients during routine hearings held remotely.