Travis County holds jury trial by Zoom, possibly nation’s first

The ongoing pandemic has shuttered courthouse doors. But Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu has found a workaround, a trial by jury via Zoom.

“This is the first in our nation doing a trial by zoom on a criminal case and this is also the first time we are doing a trial probably in the world in terms of a binding trial like this,” said Judge Nicholas Chu, Precinct 5.

But first, the judge had to outline some house rules, made especially for a tech-heavy trial.“Don’t talk on the phone, look at text messages, don’t post on social media. Make sure no one else in your room,” he said.

RELATED: Travis County to hold possibly the nation's first virtual jury trial

The case involves a misdemeanor traffic offense. Prosecutors said the defendant was going 51 in a 35 miles per hour construction zone.

“This is a case about community safety, it's not crazy. It is important we enforce these laws to protect those people working in those construction zones and I'm going to ask you to find her guilty,” said Afton Washbourne, prosecutor.

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In this photo illustration, the website of Zoom Video Communications Inc is seen on April 4, 2020 in Katwijk, Netherlands. (Yuriko Nakao)

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The defense cited bodycam footage on the deputy that they say shows no signs that she was in a construction zone or speeding for that matter. “When Ms. Kornblau gets told she was speeding going 51 in a 35 she was surprised because she has driven this road enough and knows it is not a 35 mph zone,” said Carl Guthrie, defense attorney.

“When she is told after that she is being ticketed for speeding in a construction zone with workers present she is even more surprised because there are no workers,” said Guthrie.

Six jurors instead of 12 were selected. Aside from a little troubleshooting during jury selection, the trial went smoothly technically the process went just as court proceedings in person would work.

It may be a small Class C misdemeanor case, but it could change how courts operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

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