JURY TRIALS IN THE AGE OF COVID-19
May 27, 2020
As no one seems to know how long social distancing, mask wearing and other restrictions will be necessary due to COVID-19, it is possible Courts will need to re-start holding jury trials under the restrictions. This will necessarily lengthen and complicate the entire jury trial process. Some Courts may try to hold trials via video. Others will locate venues large enough to allow for the summoned jurors to be 6 + feet apart during jury selection and after they are selected. That may be school gymnasiums, or other large venues. Necessarily it will make the jury selection process longer.
Will lawyers be willing to interview jurors who are wearing masks, causing the lawyers not to be able to see jurors faces as they answer questions and react to statements? Can a fair jury be selected under such circumstances? Will jurors show up for jury service? Or will they be concerned for their safety that they will not show up? If people do show up what does that say about them, and whether a lawyer will want them to serve on a jury - of course that will depend on the case at issue and other factors. Will the circumstances cause a potential juror to lean more towards one side of the case or the other?
If jury trials cannot be held, will some cases have to be dismissed due to not holding a trial within the 'speedy trial' requirement (6 months from the not guilty plea - possibly extended by 3 months if a mistrial is declared because a jury cannot be seated). Will the Legislature pass hastily drawn laws to modify the speedy trial right (in the middle of many defendants cases)?
If you have a pending case, you should speak to a lawyer to learn some of your options and how the delays and issues that will arise could be handled, to obtain the best result in your case. At Miller & Harrison, LLC we would be happy to discuss these issues with you.