U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

In Practice | Virtual Court: Barriers to Access and Fairness at Initial Appearances

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2020

This 25-minute audio presentation of an episode of the “In Practice” series focuses on the potential benefits and disadvantages of the practice of virtual, remote initial court appearances, which have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


This audio presentation is an interview between the host and two members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Criminal Defense Initiatives team, deputy director Lisa Vavonese and coordinator Liz Ling. The interview notes that the practice of video conferencing of initial appearances in adult criminal court was in use before the COVOD-19 pandemic but has increased in use since the pandemic. Previous research on the advantages and disadvantages of this practice is discussed in the interview. Research has shown that advantages of this practice are reduced cost and reduction in the time between arrest and bail hearings. One disadvantage found in the research is that the frequency and amount of bail increased with the frequency of video conferencing. Other disadvantages noted are the handicaps of language interpretation and confidential interactions between defense attorney and client. The overall disadvantages stem from the loss of in-person interactions and dynamics of in-person appearance, facilitation of conversational interactions among court personnel, and the clarity and flexibility of defendants’ interactions with their attorneys.

Date Published: September 1, 2020