The COVID-19 pandemic truly reshaped how we live and the criminal justice field is just one of the sectors affected by it. The new normal found its way to the courts which are now adapting and innovating on how to continue serving the public effectively. Introducing the virtual courtroom: It provides all the judicial needs of communities without risking the safety of those involved in the cases they handle. This session deep-dives into the shift into this new platform, its benefits and caveats, the new set of rules to operate by, and what to expect in this setting.
Back on Justice Clearinghouse to lead this discussion is Adam Leath, Director of Volusia County Animal Services. He serves Volusia County by investigating and responding to natural disasters and cases where animals are involved. Formerly the Regional Director of the Field Investigations and Response Team at the ASPCA, where he worked on animal law cases, investigations and operations.
Specifics that were covered on this webinar include:
- Volusia County’s initiative to shift court proceedings to a virtual landscape in response to the limitations brought about by the pandemic.
- The different platforms/apps being used across different jurisdictions’ virtual courtrooms.
- How this shift to a virtual/remote setting brought about changes in how hearings are conducted and the elements that were maintained.
- Preparing for the virtual courtroom by:
- Going through all the details provided in the subpoena, verifying for any last-minute changes, and ensuring that all witnesses and key actors were provided notice of service.
- Maintaining a system of organization for reminders for the hearings.
- Preparing the needed equipment and resources including case history and related files that can be used to build a robust case.
- Familiarizing with the nature of the case and the hearing and your role in the proceeding.
- Creating a list of question and practicing these to ensure that all critical points are tackled during the hearing
- Working with the counsel to identify and prepare exhibits for the trial and ensuring compatibility of the file format to what the platform supports.
- Guidelines for on the day of the court in terms of…
- Ensuring that the environment you are in as you participate in the virtual courtroom has minimal distractions, interruptions, and potential for tech issues.
- Having statutes, case files, and other related documentation ready if needed.
- Quality of the equipment and familiarity with the functions of the platform to reduce unnecessary disturbances and delays.
- Pointers to take into account during the hearing:
- To be prepared for unusual things happening in the background as some of those involved may not have a dedicated area for the proceeding or may not be familiar with court decorum.
- Remain calm, avoid reacting to what you see or hear, and don’t take questions being raised by the defense personally.
- Prepare for delays particularly IT issues that may or may not be within participants’ control.
- A rundown of the flow of proceedings in the virtual courtroom.
- The dos and don’ts of virtual courts that highlights the importance of:
- Being prepared by arriving early, ensuring files are organized and handy, and providing an updated CV that verifies your qualification and credibility.
- Being conscious of how you come across by using plain/official backgrounds, using your actual name instead of screen names, and dressing and speaking professionally.
- Minimizing distractions in terms of your environment, the manner you respond to questions, and by remaining muted if not speaking.
- A case study that demonstrated:
- The flow of the virtual courtroom hearing.
- How lack of preparation can have detrimental effects on the courtroom proceeding.
- The value of ensuring the format of files and other evidence to be presented are supported in the virtual courtroom platform.
- How your background and the environment evoke professionalism.
- How distractions can impact the trial.
Questions from the webinar attendees were about:
- Conducting tech checks before the trial.
- Pre-trial rehearsal as part of prepping with the counsel.
- Differences between prepping for an in-person trial and a virtual courtroom trial.
- Handling inconsistencies in the audio quality.
- The role of virtual courtrooms beyond COVID-19.
Other Webinars with This Speaker
- Video Testimony: The Virtual Courtroom for the ACO (this webinar)
- May 13: Tools, Tips and Tricks for the ACO: Lessons Learned from the Field
- Nov 9: Critical Incident Stress Management for the ACO
Resources from Today’s Webinar:
- “The virtual courtroom set up, paying attention to whether your speaker is on, the type of background and having good audio. Overall, presentation of witness, dressing, etc. as if you were in person in the courtroom.” — Sheila
- “Great info for virtual testimony and the need to work out the IT kinks ahead of time. …Well done…” — Hilary
- “Actually seeing a virtual hearing is eye-opening as to how everyone presents on camera. Are they articulating and speaking clearly/loudly so that everyone can understand. How a professional background creates an image of an actual courtroom. Great training.” — Maryanne
- “I found the tips and information helpful to test your equipment, consider the variables to increase communication and decrease issues with technology, the speaker… and consider testing and all the possible issues before testifying in court.” — Lezlie
- “Using the speaker’s example of one case, I was able to see how the virtual court proceeding plays out from beginning to end of the hearing. It was very valuable to see this example, which supported all the speaker’s statements made at the beginning of the presentation concerning how to participate successfully in a virtual court proceeding. Thanks to this speaker for a webinar thoughtfully planned with his listeners in mind.” — Joni