Few of us could have predicted the impact that the ongoing pandemic would have on every aspect of our lives. From stay-at-home orders to virtual offices and the wearing of masks to go out in public, we are confronted with seemingly new challenges every day.
The legal system certainly hasn’t been immune from the reach of pandemic-related precautions. The ban on jury trials presents significant challenges to both lawyers and clients alike.
Criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial. It’s difficult to have a speedy trial when you can’t call a jury. Even if the court would allow for jury trials, doing so still raises significant challenges. Many courtrooms aren’t large enough to allow for social distancing. If jurors and witnesses wear masks, it becomes impossible to discern facial expressions. Reading a person’s facial expressions are key to establishing credibility.
It may not be possible for lawyers to approach the bench, to whisper to one another and to the judge in an effort to avoid tainting the jury.
What happens if a juror tests positive for the virus in the middle of the trial? Will this result in a mistrial? Will it be necessary to quarantine the jury pool, delaying the proceedings?
Some states are allowing civil trials to proceed via Zoom and other technological applications. Is it possible to handle criminal trials in the same manner? What about the defendant’s right to confront their accusers? Does doing so virtually satisfy this requirement?
In a perfect world, we’d all be able to get back to normal in a short period of time. The reality is looking like this will be a struggle for a significant period. Know that we’re all in this together and having a legal professional on your side can help protect your rights as we navigate these uncharted waters.