New data released by the Court Statistics Project shows that state court trials drastically decreased in 2020. Civil jury trials were hit the hardest as states saw activity decrease by 74% from 2019 to 2020. Criminal jury trials followed closely behind, with a decrease of 60% from 2019 to 2020. Bench trials fared better with civil bench trials seeing a 42% decrease and criminal bench trials seeing a 35% decrease from 2019 to 2020.
The Court Statistics Project is a collaboration between the National Center for State Courts and the Conference of State Court Administrators. Just over 20 states participated and shared their data. The closed courthouses impacted the entire trial ecosystem from judges and lawyers to jurors, clerks and stenographers.
The data revealed that waves and spikes in the pandemic affected different parts of the country at different times – impacting the states’ ability to keep courtroom doors opened or closed. It also revealed the impact of the adoption of Zoom proceedings. California, for example, an early adopter of Zoom trials, only saw a 16% decrease in civil jury trials. The state reported 1,477 civil jury trials in 2019 and 1,236 in 2020.
Zoom trials were met with mixed reactions as some questioned their ability to provide an effective trial experience. Others saw it as a necessary tool to prevent the delay of justice.
Zoom trials were not consistently an option in felony criminal trials because of the defendant’s right to confront their accuser, guaranteed by the sixth amendment. Courts have interpreted this to mean in-person.
These statistics help provide insight on how to most effectively proceed through current waves, like Omicron, and future fluctuations in this global pandemic.
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