The City of McKinney's Municipal Court has implemented the state's first virtual criminal jury trial program for municipal courts to handle Class C misdemeanor cases during courtroom restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the McKinney Municipal Court, the state has mandated that justice and municipal courts cannot hold in-person jury trials until at least Feb. 1, 2021.
The McKinney Municipal Court said courts staff went to work creating a process for holding trials in order to avoid a backlog of cases when courts are reopened.
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The court has been holding hearings online throughout the pandemic, but the McKinney Municipal Court successfully conducted the state's first wholly virtual municipal jury trial on Nov. 10.
"We want our citizens to have efficient case resolution when they exercise their right to jury trial, so that meant we had to get creative," Associate Judge Claire Petty said.
During the virtual trials, evidence is presented online and witnesses can be called, just like in-person trials.
Pre-trial hearings are held in advance, and if a defendant objects to having a virtual trial, they can send a request to the judge to have it held in-person after the court restrictions are lifted, the McKinney Municipal Court said.
"We put a lot of time and effort into preparing and planning for our first trials to ensure a smooth process for all involved," Courts Administrator April Morman said. "I commend our entire team for pulling this off and being the first in the state is a huge honor and accomplishment we are very proud of. Municipal courts play an important role in our community, and we are pleased to continue our work despite the current conditions."
According to the McKinney Municipal Court, trials are streamed live in accordance with the open courts provision on the McKinney Municipal Court's YouTube page, but they are deleted when the trial ends.