Since it arrived in the United States early this year, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed almost every aspect of how we interact with others and go about the business of our daily lives. This “new normal” has also impacted the legal system and criminal trials, as well as some of the reasons defendants are charged with crimes.
As more of our lives move online, and virtual meetings and interactions become more common than (and in many cases preferable to) face-to-face meetings, new rules governing online conduct are rapidly becoming apparent. Unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to tell where these new lines are until we've already crossed them.
How Online Interactions Can Go Too Far
In an attempt to meet public access requirements in the pandemic era, Philadelphia-area courts had been broadcasting criminal trials live on YouTube, as the courts have been closed to spectators. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple solution had potentially dire consequences: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ordered a halt to the broadcasts, citing the possible harassment of witnesses, victims, and defendants.
“The [First Judicial District of Pennsylvania] has gone too far in attempting to meet public access requirements in the COVID-19 era,” the district attorney and his staff wrote in a petition. “The policy of streaming criminal jury trials over YouTube violates the privacy of all parties and endangers witnesses in a jurisdiction known for intimidation and retaliation achieved through social media. There is no need to take these risks where ample alternatives exist that meet or exceed constitutional requirements.”
Other alternatives that have been explored for broadcasting trials include utilizing private Zoom calls or closed-circuit television feeds to cut down on the number of unauthorized viewers who may have reason to intimidate or harass those involved with court proceedings.
”It is essential in protecting the judicial process that we protect the people that participate in the process,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “And it's of the utmost importance to protect witnesses and defendants from having their testimonies used against them for the rest of their lives.”
Are You Facing Criminal Charges Due to Harassment?
While some definitions of harassment are clear and obvious, when it comes to online interactions, there is a large gray area that can often lead to confusion and ambiguity regarding what constitutes threatening behavior – though criminal charges related to virtual exchanges on social media or other sites are becoming more common all the time. They can be legitimately damaging to someone's reputation. It's best to seek the advice of an experienced attorney to help you navigate this complex and evolving legal environment.
The impact of criminal charges can affect many areas of a person's life, future, and career. If you've been charged with a crime, it's important to understand all of the possible implications. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help you navigate this challenge. Call us today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.