Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Collin County District Court has avoided jury trials. But that is changing now.
"So we are going to have the jurors report through zoom,” 470th District Court Judge Emily Miskel said. “Doing a short trial through zoom. Having them deliberate through zoom and give a verdict."
Judge Miskel said there will be a summary jury trial held May 18. She said it's a way for them to test the technology.
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"We're open to creatively thinking about any way to be able to get their jury trials that they need, to allow citizens to participate in their jury service, and to do it through creative remote ways," Miskel said.
SMU Dedman School of Law assistant professor Anna Offit said attorneys could be at a disadvantage from a virtual jury trial.
"To read body language, interrupt witnesses, to allow for this natural interaction and strategic work that's very vital that goes on in in-person courtrooms," Offit said.
But she also wants to make sure everyone gets a fair trial of their peers.
"How it is we can avoid excluding jurors on the basis of access they may or may not be able to have to technologies that will facilitate everything running smoothly and fairly for them and for the defendants whose lives are really at stake here," Offit said.
Judge Miskel knows some nuances may be lost, but said things would still be different right now in a courtroom either way.
"Most people prefer an in-person face to face conversation,” Miskel said. “But when we call people to the courthouse now they'll have to be wearing masks. So again, you'll be losing a lot of information from people if they are talking to you from behind a mask. So, there are trade-offs in person, there are trade-offs with technology."
The summary jury trial is non-binding. The juror’s decision could help the attorneys settle their case. But if not the attorneys could call for a full jury trial at a later date.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.