March 7, 2021 04:28

More Courts Stop Jury Trials During COVID-19 Outbreak

With the latest wave of COVID-19, many courts again are suspending jury trials, leaving many defendants to languish in jail, reports Stateline. Requiring large numbers to show up for jury duty and holding traditional trials in often-packed courtrooms isn’t a safe bet right now. “You can go to a grocery store or a hair salon or not,” said Paula Hannaford-Agor of the National Center for State Courts. “If you get summoned for jury service, it’s not your choice. The courts are taking that really, really seriously. They have a special obligation not to endanger public health and safety.” Courts expect an enormous backlog of cases in 2021 and perhaps beyond. Nearly every state suspended in-person jury trials in the early months of the pandemic, starting in March.

By late summer and early fall, most courts resumed in-person jury trials on a limited basis. Many required masks and temperature checks; some installed plexiglass barriers and reconfigured courtrooms to allow for social distancing. As COVID-19 cases have spiked, courts have pulled back. While some have held virtual jury trials, most haven’t. There has been pushback from attorneys concerned that viewing evidence and testimony remotely might affect a trial’s fairness. At least eight states have suspended in-person jury trials until January, February or March, says the Center for Jury Studies. At least seven other states have halted them until further notice. Many places “may not have figured out a way to do it safely because of space or because of local outbreaks or because they don’t have the funding to afford all the hand sanitizer and PPEs,” Hannaford-Agor said. Some counties, such as Guilford County, N.C., are holding in-person jury trials. Orange County, Ca., has held 131 since May. Last year, it held 448 ng the same period.

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