Virtual Justice? A National Study Analyzing the Transition to Remote Criminal Court


Publish Date:
August 5, 2021
Stanford Law School
  • Taylor Benninger, Courtney Colwell, Debbie Mukamal, & Leah Plachinski, Virtual Justice? A National Study Analyzing the Transition to Remote Criminal Court, Stanford Criminal Justice Center, August 2021.
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When the COVID pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, courthouses were forced to close alongside businesses, schools, and workplaces. But the criminal legal system could not completely shut down; core functions such as setting bail and appointing counsel needed to continue. And so courts around the country, despite historical resistance to cameras or recording devices in courtrooms, rapidly transitioned to virtual operations. Within the span of a few weeks—or even a few days—judges began conducting some criminal court proceedings on teleconferencing or videoconferencing platforms, Zoom foremost among them. In a handful of jurisdictions, courts went so far as to hold criminal jury trials over Zoom. This report examines the consequences of that switch to virtual hearings for criminal court through a quantitative study of defense attorneys and a qualitative study of judges, court administrators, defense attorneys, and prosecutors in three jurisdictions.