Criminal Case Status in the COVID-19 Era, Part 2

Criminal Case Status in the COVID-19 Era, Part 2

Let me be perfectly clear.  COVID-19 is a real disease, no matter what some people believe. It is not a political position. Details may be unclear, and what we understand may change as we learn, but COVID-19 is a real thing.  The most cases and the most deaths are in the United States of America.  It is likely to become worse before better. The entire planet Earth acknowledges the problem and is dealing with its effects.

To some, COVID-19 is lethal.  To others, it can be completely asymptomatic.  Details about its long-term effects may be unknown for years.  There is good reason to believe it will have long-term effects, even some we may not have anticipated.  So, “recovery” may not be as clear cut as we thought.

We are in the continuing process of learning about it, and data is being collected and studied on a massive level.  

One thing is evident and seemingly incontrovertible: it’s highly contagious, much more so the common cold or flu.

Due to its high contagiousness, it presents a daunting task for anyone considering bringing diverse groups of people together in person.  A critical point is even asymptomatic people can spread the disease.

Jury Trials Are On Hold

Most people in jails right now are not convicted of the crime they are accused of committing.  They are in jail because they cannot post bail. This is a chronic problem predating the pandemic

Jury trials have been prohibited since the pandemic beginning.  At this writing, that has been extended to October 1, 2020.

The direct consequence is jail inmates who cannot make bail must simply wait, unless they wish to give up their rights and plead guilty or ??? ed (opens in a new tab)” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>no contest.  Imagine you are innocent and in that situation.  Further understand they are presumed innocent under law, meaning they are legally innocent with no end to their incarceration in sight.  

The backlog of unresolved cases and inmates necessarily gets worse, unless they are released pending trial by granting them bail they can afford. In a previous blog, I pointed out the Texas Governor has taken it upon himself to make sure many poor people stay in jail.

If you or your loved one is that situation, you may be willing to take risks others would not.  After all, jails already present high risks of transmission. Jury trials, however, necessarily involve participation by others.  The very people you would prefer on your jury may not be willing to show up at all.

Jurors Are Likely Not Going To Be As Random

Everyone knows significant resistance to jury service is common. You may have tried to “get out of jury duty” yourself.  People sometimes call me to ask how they can do exactly that.  A large percentage of people already simply ignore jury summonses and never appear as ordered.

Jury pools are created randomly from voter rolls and lists of state-issued driver licenses and identification cards

Will Trials Be Fair?

Exactly who responds by showing up for jury duty may be the first major change from pre-pandemic jury panelists. When entire groups of people are eliminated or diluted in jury pools, for any reason, the outcome necessarily loses their input and influence.

Who will show up for jury duty during a pandemic? Will they be people who think COVID-19 is a hoax?  Will they be people who refuse to wear masks? Will they take precautions seriously when serving? Will people with concerns about catching COVID-19 even show up? Demographically, the people who are more cautious would likely be better jurors for the defense, in my opinion. 

Judges are weighing options and considering alternatives to traditional jury trial settings and processes.  Sending out jury duty summonses is easy.  Beyond that, it’s a new ball game, and how it will be played may be a sport unto itself and the subject of my next blog entry.