Improve Access to Jury Trials with Technology
Organized by: James Kamanski
Justice delayed is justice denied. Court systems have faced severe budget cuts resulting in systemic downsizing of court staff and closure of court facilities, increasing case backlog and delays in civil case resolution. www.courts.ca.gov/partners/courtsbudget.htm
Ready access to jury trials drives case resolution and is key to the public's access to justice. Quicker trial dates equate to quicker case settlements. Also, because access to jury trials is the core function of the courts, other programs such as child dependency, mental health and family law court have been negatively impacted. The criminal court system has been heavily strained.
This crowdfunding campaign raises funds to improve a model for streamlining civil jury trials by video recording witness testimony and digitized documentary evidence in a deposition setting before showing the evidence to a jury. Results from mock trials, using real judges and lawyers, will be used to perfect a business model that can be scaled for use with the civil courts by voluntary litigants. Funds will be used for related business set-up purposes.
In a civil jury trial, the judge's main role is to rule on objections while lawyers question the witness. It is the jury's job to listen and watch the witnesses, judge their credibility and then render a verdict.
Though less common, video presentation of witness testimony in the courtroom occurs today as a substitute when a witness cannot appear live. To make this happen, lawyers conduct a video recorded deposition and ask the same questions, impeach with pretrial deposition testimony and statements, and make any objections, just as they would in a courtroom during a traditional trial. Once completed, the objections and answers are reviewed by the trial judge and if a question and answer should not have been allowed, that part of the video is edited out.
The proposed process adopts this method for all of the trial witnesses and documents. By shifting the presentation of trial evidence to a video recorded deposition setting, the trial judge is relieved of the need to preside over the entire presentation of evidence, saving the judge and court staff a substantial amount of time. This process will use a proctor who monitors jury viewing of the video, where there is no need to address objections by counsel since they have already been dealt with by the judge in advance. Prerecorded trial evidence can also be viewed any place where a jury can be housed, including facilities outside the court, which allows even faster scheduling of trial dates and saves court infrastructure costs.
A few things to keep in mind
- The core idea is not new. It was tested nearly 40 years ago when videotape technology was just emerging and flat screens didn't exist. And, juror attitudes then toward prerecorded trials were positive. See Juror Response to Prerecorded Videotape Trials. Today's average juror and litigant are now accustomed to virtualized environments, and the technology to create, modify and deliver a robust media presentation is vastly improved.
- Our process is voluntary to litigants, and only designed for civil jury trials, not criminal trials.
- Our process does not abandon the "human" aspect of jury trials. Since our process is voluntary to litigants and designed for less complex cases, our process provides a close approximation to a traditional trial with minimal compromise yet maximum gain. Witnesses show their human side while under oath in a video recorded deposition just as they do live at trial, and jurors can effectively judge their credibility on video as they can live.
- While lawyers do not get the benefit of immediate rulings to objections, they adapt to conducting direct and cross-examination without a judge present. And, under this process, major evidentiary issues are still addressed by the judge before recording begins by motion in limine. Lawyers also have a good understanding of the case from pretrial discovery depositions, where witnesses have already testified once in the case.
- The process retains other key components of traditional trials. Specifically, after recording is done, jury selection and opening statements are done live with a judge and jury in a courtroom. Then jury viewing occurs. Then closing arguments are also done live with the judge and jury, and then the jury deliberates.
- Lawyers' tasks remain the same. That is, if a case must be tried, the same amount of work is involved. The difference is that evidence is presented and recorded in a videoed deposition setting without a judge present rather than inside a courtroom with a judge present.
- Ready access to jury trials is key to pretrial settlement of cases. Without trial hanging over their heads, litigants will not settle and case resolution is delayed. The process is meant to speed access to jury trials and, in turn, speed resolution of cases.
- Settlement opportunities are increased by the process, since the strengths and weaknesses of each witness can be evaluated more effectively in a series of depositions completed before jury viewing, rather than in a "crunch" scenario at trial where witnesses testify with the jury present in a rapid paced setting.
The courts will continue to experience inadequate funding into the future and delayed access to justice will not resolve on its own. Civil litigants can and should embrace the digital age to help resolve disputes and ease burdens placed on the court system. Using lean methods that leverage technology, this process aims to offer litigants an easy, innovative approach to trial by jury with added benefits and less delay.