October 10, 2020
Until recently, I held the distinction of having tried the last jury trial in New Hampshire before the COVID pandemic hit. In fact, back in March, my jury was in the middle of deliberations when the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued an order closing all of the courts in the State (unfortunately, the judge let these particular deliberations continue to their conclusion, which was a guilty verdict).
Now, seven months later, New Hampshire has had two jury trials, one of which was livestreamed. And that created a problem. The underlying allegation entailed an assault by one university student on another, and the alleged victim balked at testifying in such a public manner.
And I fully understand her concern. In pre-COVID days, the courtroom would be open, but her testimony would not have been broadcast far and wide (and, if the matter had attracted any news coverage, the media would have reported the matter without identifying her).
On the other hand, the right to a public trial is not just a right that inheres to the defendant; it is the right that is afforded every member of the public. And if livestreaming means that more people will have the chance to see the system of justice at work, that may be for the better. I am certain that we can come up with ways to protect alleged victims and keep the criminal justice system as transparent as possible.