Jury selection Archives – PubliCola
By Paul Kiefer
The instructions accompanying a jury summons in King County changed dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic upset court operations: Instead of being directed to a courthouse, jurors now receive an email from ‘a bailiff with a video link. Now King County Superior Court judges say the move to virtual jury selection – initially adopted as an emergency measure – is too useful to be dropped once the pandemic is over.
In an effort to make the change permanent, King County Superior Court staff are asking the Washington State Supreme Court to continue using video appeals for jury selection once the emergency order is issued. state expired.
For Judge Sean O’Donnell, the move to virtual jury selections is a matter of efficiency. Before the pandemic, he said, the response rate to jury summons was appalling; as a result, the court had to delay trials until it had enough qualified jurors to fill a bench. “When you received a summons, you had to go to a courthouse, wait in a hallway in case your name was called, enter a courtroom and be questioned – it could take a full day,” he said. he declared.
Online jury selection, he added, only takes an hour. “I think for the judiciary this has to be the future,” O’Donnell said. “The convenience factor is huge. The benefits for physical security, compared to the Third Avenue courthouse with all the chaos nearby, are huge. If we can just reduce the footprint of citizens who have to physically descend, we can make the fulfillment of your civic duty more accessible to more people. “
The virtual hearing, O’Donnell added, also gives lawyers more time to question potential jurors. “We have been able to increase the amount of information we collect from jurors, and that helps lawyers call in to find out who is and is not suitable for serving on a jury,” he said.
But for some lawyers who navigate virtual jury selection, the new setup is not perfect. “I found it a little harder to get people to open up,” said Brent Hart, a Seattle defense attorney who recently participated in a virtual jury selection. “For some reason, it seems to be more difficult to get people to turn the sound back on than to get them to raise their hands in a courtroom.”
And while Hart agrees that the virtual jury selection process can streamline court proceedings, he added that lawyers have a harder time reading the behavior of potential jurors through a computer screen. “If someone is doing legal research, looking for information on a case that they shouldn’t be looking for, we can’t tell,” he said. “We don’t really have eyes on them, only the illusion of eyes on them.”
But O’Donnell and Hart agreed that a more efficient jury selection process will play an important role in dealing with the impending backlog of criminal cases in the Superior Court. “We have thousands and thousands of criminal cases – some very serious – that have piled up during the pandemic,” said O’Donnell, “and being able to select juries more quickly has helped. “
For now, jurors selected for criminal trials are typically required to attend court hearings in person, but the superior court is also asking the state to make virtual civil trials a permanent feature of the King County court system. The Supreme Court will not rule on the two claims until next year.