The Pros and Cons of Zoom Trials
The COVID-19 pandemic has made many previously unimaginable things part of the new normal. For the legal system, these changes include conducting trials via Zoom. Remote court hearings have become extremely common across the country as communities have shut down to slow the spread of disease, and despite some popular examples of missteps—like the infamous Zoom trial cat filter—many cases have been decided over Zoom without difficulty. Of course, solving legal challenges remotely does come with challenges, as well. Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of having trials by Zoom.
Pro: Reduced Spread of COVID-19
The most obvious advantage of Zoom trials is the very reason this trend began. Having court cases conducted remotely means that groups of people do not have to congregate together in a courtroom, which reduces the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Courthouses typically have huge numbers of people going in and out every day. During the pandemic, this setup puts everyone’s wellbeing at risk. Not only do Zoom trials keep the people participating in a case safe, but they also help to keep the entire community safer by reducing person-to-person contact.
Con: Technical Difficulties
The Zoom court cases that have made the news have typically earned their fame because of technical difficulties. People accidentally turning on filters, trouble with sound, and spotty internet connections can all interfere with smooth trial operations. Everyone involved in a Zoom court case has to be tech-savvy enough to log in and manage the camera and sound. If they are not, the Zoom meeting may be unproductive.
Pro: Increased Convenience
When no one has to travel to the courthouse, trials are more convenient for everyone involved. It is easier to find a date that works for everyone when the trial can be conducted from anywhere, and it is easy for witnesses to join without disrupting their own schedules. This added convenience also extends to financial savings, since no one has to pay for gas, parking, or public transportation.
Con: Trial Security
Even with security measures in place, Zoom meetings can be hacked. Additionally, since court cases are typically legally required to be open to the public, only minimal security setting can be used. This creates an environment in which court cases can be derailed by hackers or are illegally recorded by unauthorized parties. The other side of that concern is lack of access. Some courts are preventing public access to hearings in hopes of preventing hackers, which removes the balances on the court’s power that come with open access to hearings.
Pros: Increased Safety for Domestic Violence Cases
For domestic violence cases, the thought of confronting the defendant in court is frightening to many accusers and may even impact their willingness to see the case through to the conclusion. With Zoom trials, domestic violence accusers can testify from a safe location without having to be face-to-face with the defendant. Because of the potential volatility of domestic violence cases, this approach is safer for everyone involved. However, this advantage can become a con if the accuser and defendant are still occupying the same household. If they are both in the same home giving testimony in the case, the situation can become inflamed.
Con: Trial Integrity
During a face-to-face trial, it is easy for the judge to determine if everyone involved in the case is participating as intended, without violating any rules. This is not as simple during a Zoom trial. During a trial on Zoom, it’s not possible for the judge to see if witnesses are using notes during their testimony or if they are being coached by someone in the room with them. Although everyone involved in a trial is advised of the rules, there’s no way to be sure those rules are being followed.
Pro and Con: Witness Credibility Evaluation
Some judges and attorneys believe that Zoom hearings have allowed them to focus more on witnesses and make easier determinations about credibility. Without the inherent distractions of the courtroom and with the close-up on the witnesses’ faces during testimony, they believe it is easier to pick up on signs of deception. However, other judges and attorneys believe the opposite is true. They think Zoom creates distance and impacts the way that people present themselves, making it harder to gauge what is awkwardness with the technology and what is deception.
Online or in-person, Janet Altschuler fights for the rights of her clients and ensures that they get the most robust criminal defense possible. If you’re facing legal trouble, don’t wait to get an attorney involved in the case. Schedule a consultation with a criminal defense attorney in Tucson by calling (520) 247-1789.