Having to go to court for any reason can feel overwhelming. You have something at stake, you are not sure what to expect, and it is the kind of environment that could make anyone nervous. But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, traffic ticket hearings in New York City (and other NY locations) can be held virtually. While some may find this convenient, it also comes with its own set of downsides? In what ways can this affect your case? Being aware of what you are facing is as important as defending your traffic ticket.
What Are Virtual Hearings?
A virtual hearing refers to having your traffic court case heard over the internet via Webex platform. You are in one location in front of your computer or tablet, and the judge and police officer are in another location (usually the traffic court).
By the same token, the other parties to the case and any witnesses may log in to provide their testimony.
Once the judge has listened to everyone’s side of the story and evaluated the evidence presented, they can make a decision on the spot.
Benefits of Virtual Hearings
Several advantages come from having your hearing heard online:
You Don’t Have to Travel to Court
This one’s a slam dunk. No one likes being stuck in traffic, trying to find a good parking spot, or standing at the security line to enter a courthouse as if they were at an airport. Virtual hearings eliminate all of these inconveniences.
It’s Less Intimidating
Unless you’re a lawyer, judge, court reporter, or bailiff, you likely will get somewhat intimidated by imposing court buildings with their flags, state seals, and formal procedures. Being able to conduct a hearing from your home or library takes off some of the edge.
You’re More Comfortable
Even though you still have to dress up and look presentable for your hearing (at least from the waist up), you have more things under your control, such as regulating the AC, finding a comfortable place to sit, and maybe even wearing your house slippers.
If you have small children or are the caregiver for an ailing family member or pet, it is much easier to do the hearing from home. However, do keep in mind that it may take some time before your case is called so you may be on “standby” for some time.
Disadvantages of Virtual Hearings
While virtual hearings come with a handful of positives, they present several challenges that could potentially affect your case. These include:
Faulty Internet Connection
Think of everything that annoys you to high heaven during virtual meetings — pixelated video, echos, frozen images, people who speak while muted, or even losing internet access altogether. All of these things could have a negative impact on your hearing.
While there are those who start giving testimony while muted, others simply do not even bother to push that button when warranted. Enter screaming children, barking dogs, or a neighbor’s lawn mower.
Worries About Technology
Even if your internet connection is stable, you may have a learning curve when using online platforms for hearings. For instance, the NYC Webex platform has a specific way to upload evidence. Virtual hearings can heighten these concerns.
Inability to Meaningfully Cross Examine
While you can still question the police officer during an online hearing, things can get lost in the technological translation. You may miss facial expression or body language cues. You may have challenges assessing a person’s credibility. Lags in seeing reactions exacerbate this problem.
Additional Challenges of Virtual Hearings
Since not all hearings are the same, some can be more affected by a virtual medium than others. For example, in cases where there is an extensive body of evidence, a significant number of witnesses, or even the need for a court interpreter, things can become more challenging to manage.
In some jurisdictions, cases have slowly started to be scheduled back in regular courtrooms, while others are still holding all (or the majority) of hearings online. It is unclear whether virtual hearings are here to stay.
Further, while virtual hearings still, in theory, provide people with a chance to present their side of the story, this process can lead to unjust results. This is why it is even more important than ever to have an experienced attorney making sure that your rights are protected and you maximize your chances for success.