It came about due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but virtual court is now standard practice in many Colorado courtrooms. Allowing defendants and other court participants to appear virtually in court has changed the landscape, mostly for the better.
Prior to 2020, a court hearing in Eagle County for a Denver resident meant missing an entire day of work. Inclement weather could add to the commute. Most cases require multiple court hearings, so a misdemeanor DUI case could create an adverse effect on one’s livelihood. Without a driver’s license, the expense of traveling four hours for a 5-minute hearing is even more inconvenient and costly.
Now, many judges allow defendants to appear virtually in court for many types of hearings. It goes without saying that trials and hearings that require testimony are still in person. Arraignments and other non-testimonial hearings, however, are often conducted virtually.
The Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure were updated in 2021 to make this permanent. If both the judge and the defendant authorize it, a criminal defendant may appear virtually. The rules do not give the prosecution any say in the matter. Victims and other court participants often appear virtually as well.
Most courts use WebEx, which is a platform that works like Zoom. Some courts, like in Denver County, use Microsoft Teams. Some jurisdictions have standing rules allowing virtual appearances for most types of hearings. Other courtrooms have judges that do not allow it for one reason or another.
The modernization of the court process creates many benefits to all parties involved. For attorneys, there are more hours in the workday to prepare. Prior to 2020, much of an attorney’s workday was commuting. The same benefits are felt by clients, who are not risking their job to be out all-day for a court hearing. Lawyers and prosecutors are forced to discuss and reach resolutions before the day of court. In addition, lawyers are better able to prepare their clients for what will happen in court before arriving. Having these discussions before court is a benefit to all and streamlines judicial economy.
Clients are also feeling the benefit in their pocketbooks, as lawyers cannot bill for extreme travel times to and from court.
While there are a lot of benefits to virtual court, it has not been perfect. Often, participants are disruptive by not muting themselves when their case is not up. Also, some attorneys have forgotten courtroom decorum.
But overall, the benefits are being felt by all.