June 17, 2021 19:08

COVID-19 Forces Many Courts to Stop Jury Trials

Jury duty notices in California have set Nicholas Philbrook’s home on edge with worries about contracting the coronavirus and passing it on to his father-in-law, a cancer survivor with diabetes. Officials say he must appear in court next month. People across the U.S. have similar concerns amid resurgences of the coronavirus, which has derailed plans to resume jury trials in many courthouses, the Associated Press reports. Courts in Hartford, San Diego, and Norfolk, Va., have had to delay jury selection for trials because too few people responded to summonses. The non-response rates are much higher now than they were before the pandemic, court officials say. Judges in New York City, Indiana, Colorado, and Missouri declared mistrials because people connected to the trials tested positive for the virus or had symptoms.

“What the real question boils down to [is] are people willing to show up to that court and sit in a jury trial?” said Bill Raftery of the National Center for State Courts. “Many courts have been responsive to jurors who have said that they’re not comfortable with coming to court and doing jury duty and therefore offering deferrals simply because of concerns over COVID.” This month, state court systems in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, and Denver courts were among those to suspend all jury trials because of rising virus rates. Two dozen U.S. district courts have suspended jury trials and grand jury proceedings because of virus outbreaks and too few people showing up for jury duty. A few courts have held trials in person and by video conference. Many criminal defense lawyers oppose video trials because it’s harder to determine witness credibility and to see if jurors are paying attention, said Christopher Adams of Charleston, S.C., who heads the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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