Zoom Jury Trials — “It’s Good Enough” Lowers the Standard in Our Courtrooms

May 19, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Collin County is kicking around the idea of jury trials via Zoom or some other similar platform.  They just tried a virtual jury trial – sort of.  It was a “summary jury trial” which is a practice run typically for wealthier litigants.  The fake jury comes back and tells the parties what they think the outcome should be — and the parties then consider settling.

***What did you say?  Sorry.  Go ahead.***

And not to pick on Zoom.  There are other similar platforms too, but I’ll just collectively refer to them here as Zoom.  Sorry.

Judges organizing and developing the idea get A’s for ingenuity, effort, and passion for their jobs.

But it’s still a terrible idea.  Remember, a jury trial is often the most important day in one or more person’s entire life.  Here are some of the biggest reasons I can think of:

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 9.14.28 AM

  1.  Over Simplification of Human Communication

Human communication is complex, intricate and amazingly subtle.

I’ve interviewed thousands of potential jurors  — and I have cross examined hundreds of witnesses.  Many, many jurors cannot give my client a fair trial but would still swear they could.  Many, many witnesses want to make sure I lose and evade questions until they are pinned into answering.  A critical part of my job in the courtroom is to hone in on the most minor of cues from a juror or witness.   An eye dart.  A smirk.  Posture.  Hand position.  Voice tone or inflection… and on and on an on.

***Sorry.  Lost you for a second.***

Zoom and other similar platforms are — at least for now — tone deaf.  These subtleties are either flattened, lost, or are drowned out in 20-people being crammed onto an 18-inch monitor.

And there is something to be said about accountability of the jurors too.  Jurors deliberate knowing they will have to go back into the courtroom and look me, my client, the prosecutor and in many cases a victim in the eye.  Jurors who share less of an emotional stake in the outcome will give the parties less of their focus and attention.

2.  Too Much is At Stake

For criminal defendants decades may hang in the balance not to mention the tidal wave which hits their families and loved ones which can be practical, financial and certainly emotional.  For victims it is their opportunity to be heard and have the jury see how real and fresh their pain truly is.

Zoom is probably fine for quick interactions and brief hearings.  It’s a great tool to visit with clients both incarcerated and free on bond.  It’s probably fine for motions practice with a Judge, lawyers, and possibly other witnesses during routine hearings too.

But any one of us would feel cheated and angry if we or our loved ones were sitting in jail after a trial where we couldn’t even see the jurors or our accusers in person.  Any victim whose defendant is acquitted will feel the same way too.

***Wait, who is talking?  Sorry!***

This is a jury trial — not a teamwork meeting or happy hour.  Can you imagine deciding something as critical and complex as a sexual assault shaping the lives of countless people without some sort of personal interaction?

3.  If Anyone Cares — It Violates a Bunch of Rights

This is a blog — not an amicus brief or a law review article.  So I apologize if I keep this quick and direct.

***Look at that guy’s cat!  He will knock down that picture on the wall***

Let’s start with the right to confront witnesses under the Sixth Amendment.  Then we’ll go to Due Process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment.  Then let’s talk about the umpteen-million opinions you’ll see about the jurors ability to judge witnesses based on x, y, and z.  Or maybe we just throw those all out because we need to get our docket moving?!?

Make no mistake — Judges are asking the specific question, “Can I get away with this without getting reversed?”  My message to them — be my guest but don’t complain about trying the case when it comes back on appeal.

Bottom Line

Is Zoom “good enough?”  Perhaps in some ways and for some things.  People can talk, listen and see videos and exhibits.  But until the platform is as good as the Jedi Counsel meeting where Yoda can sit in his chair remotely from Kashyyyk and interact – it won’t be the same.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is designated as a Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 

 

 

 

 


Is Sexual Harassment A Crime in Texas?

May 21, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rbcriminallaw.com

(972) 369-0577

Sexual Harassment

No, while reprehensible in and of itself it does not constitute a crime.

Sexual harassment whereby one or more employer or co-worker creates a hostile work environment for other workers is civil, not criminal.  This means a person’s remedy is in the courts is through a lawsuit they normally bring themselves.

But there could be over-lap between sexual harassment and actual sex crimes.

Sex crimes are typically committed where there is unwanted touching or exposure.  So crude talk, innuendo, or inappropriate language are not enough to rise to the level of a criminal offense.  However, possible criminal liability can ensue such as indecent exposure, simple assault if there is unwanted non-sexual touching, or even sexual assault.

Can I Be Charged With A Sex Crime Even If I’m Being Sued for Sexual Harassment?

In theory, yes.

I worked at an employment law boutique right out of law school.  I don’t know that I ever saw that happen.  People who sue generally don’t go to the police… and when they do AFTER going to a lawyer first, I suspect the police are a bit leery of a money-grab (not to mention the case has normally gotten much older).

If you’re being prosecuted for a sex crime and are now worried about a sexual harassment claim — that’s normally hard to do too.  Sexual harassment claims have very tight time-lines which could be lost by this point.  If you’re being prosecuted for a sex crime of any time then sexual harassment is a much lesser matter in my book.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas.  He has been recognized as a Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 

 

 


Quick Chart of Texas Sex Offender Registration Crimes

May 17, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure governs sex offender registration.  Since it reads like any other government code — I’ve listed them in an easier to digest manner and provided links where the law gets really tricky:

Lifetime Registration:

  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Young Child Children
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Indecency with a child (by contact)
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Possession of Child Pornography
  • Promotion of Child Pornography
  • Sexual performance of a child
  • Trafficking offenses in certain circumstances
  • Burglary with intent to commit sex crime
  • Compelling prostitution of a child younger than 18
  • Unlawful restraint of child under 17 when already registering
  • Prohibited sexual conduct (incest)
  • Federal offense or offense from other state which is substantially similar

10 Year Registration

  • Indecency with a child (by exposure)
  • Unlawful restraint of a child under 17
  • Online solicitation of a minor
  • Prostitution (hiring prostitute under 18)
  • Indecent Exposure, 2nd Offense (must be convictions, not deferred)
  • Federal offense or state offense from another state with is substantially similar

*Deferred adjudication will trigger registration unless otherwise listed above.

**Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 

 

 

 


Why We Defend Sex Crime Allegations

June 3, 2016

By Collin County Criminal Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

We defend sex cases because injustice turns our stomachs.

Everyone feels the need to protect the innocent and vulnerable victims of sex crimes.  Who doesn’t feel like running through a wall to protect someone from such an atrocity?  But those strong emotions can easily go out of balance and out of whack and can ultimately blind us to the fundamental issue of whether the allegation is true to begin with.

Sex crime allegations have the possibility to be emotionally fueled rather than factually fueled more than practically any other crime – especially if a child is alleged to be the victim.  As a result it there is a potential for life-alterning unfairness.

Many sex crime allegations lack fundamental physical evidence you might see in a drug case, dwi case, or an assault case.  It makes sex cases harder to prove — and much, much harder to defend.  In addition, law enforcement are highly polished in how they present evidence and are able to spin neutral facts or facts in the accused favor against the accused.

Our clients and their families constantly ask us how or why law enforcement is so selective about the facts they choose to believe, why they are deaf to facts which contradict what they believe, and why they reject logic inconsistent with what they believe.  The answer is more simple than we’d like.  It isn’t because they’re bad people… It is because they’ve made up their mind.

Debating them about the facts can be like trying to convince someone they’re wrong about religion, politics or their favorite football team.  It’s not going to work often.  But the good news is we still live in America – and the police don’t get the ultimate decision on whether you or your loved one is guilty.

Fighting injustice to a jury is a hard thing to do.  It takes hard work, attention to detail, and mastering the facts better than your opponent.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should consult an attorney directly.