Can Any Good Come From The Pandemic?

From The Sentencing Law & Policy blog. 

 What might be the positive changes that come as a result of zoom hearings and the other responses that courts have had to the pandemic? Professor Matt Bender has authored this timely new paper now on SSRN Here is its abstract:A defendant’s fundamental right to a public trial, and the press and community’s separate right to watch court have been threatened by the shift to virtual hearings. These independent constitutional rights can be in harmony in some cases and clash in others.  They cannot be incompatible.  Public interest in criminal justice transparency is increasingly crystallized, but courts have often become more opaque, which jeopardizes First and Sixth Amendment rights.This paper addresses the conflict and confronts a key question: how can we be assured that remote and virtual hearings like Zoom arraignments or trials guarantee the same rights as traditional court hearings?  Instead of rejecting virtual criminal hearings outright, new proposals are offered for how virtual courtrooms can safeguard constitutional rights.  The prevailing belief that criminal defendants should reject virtual trials is questioned.  Virtual trials may lead to better outcomes for defendants than traditional trials, specifically during the ongoing pandemic.  Beyond preserving rights in a virtual courtroom, the ways technology can improve the criminal justice system are explored.Through an analysis of existing indigent defense and First Amendment scholarship, the myth that traditional court decorum should trump open court and virtual hearings is addressed.  Judicial legitimacy and transparency may benefit when criminal cases are accessible on virtual platforms or livestreamed.  Transparency can help safeguard defendants’s rights and improve indigent clients’s representation and outcomes.  Instead of disrupting the courtroom — whether a hearing is virtual or traditional — convenient public access helps a community learn more about the criminal justice system and evaluate cases, judges, and attorneys.These proposals have significant implications for courts and clients by providing a framework for virtual litigation, and leveraging technology for a more equitable criminal justice system.  Livestreams and virtual, remote hearings can improve the right of representation for indigent defendants by increasing access to quality counsel, reducing costs, creating a more competitive legal market, and expanding a client’s choice of attorneys.

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