Nation’s First Virtual Criminal Jury Trial

The nation’s first-ever virtual criminal jury trial took place on August 11 on Zoom, and Texas Law alum Carl Guthrie ’17 was there representing the defendant. Guthrie, along with the non-profit that he co-founded, the Texas Poverty Law Project (TPLP), represented a client accused of speeding in a construction zone. Guthrie’s client was ultimately found guilty of speeding but not guilty of the work-zone enhancement.

According to Guthrie, conducting jury trials via virtual court may be the biggest change to the jury system since the first jury trial in this country centuries ago, and he sees real advantages.

An image from a live stream on YouTube showing the virtual trial, with Guthrie ’17 on the bottom right.

“The virtual system could create a more representative jury pool than we’ve ever seen,” explained Guthrie. “That provides better guarantees of equal protection under the law for people who are accused of crimes, and a better way for the community to see to the fair administration of justice.” This benefit is right in line with the mission of the TPLP. The Project works to fight the issues that put people in poverty, trap people in poverty, and punish people for being in poverty.

“Opening up to the possibility of virtual courts isn’t breaking a perfect system- it’s improving a broken one,” reflected Guthrie. After the success of this trial, Guthrie suspects virtual criminal jury trials may be a much more common occurrence in the future of the court.