In-person Jury Trials in Maryland Resume Next Week
On October 5, in-person jury trials will resume in Maryland. In the 24 circuit courts across the state, there will be variances regarding whether voir dire will be conducted remotely or at the courthouse. However, the presentation of evidence will occur with jurors present. The Baltimore Sun reports visitors entering courthouses will be required to wear a mask at all times, answer a series of COVID-19 screening questions, have their temperature taken, and maintain social distancing while inside the facility. Prospective jurors also won’t be squeezed into crowded courtrooms when summoned for duty — instead, they may be asked to report to a volunteer fire company’s social hall, a high school gymnasium, or, if they’re from Baltimore County, the Maryland State Fairground’s Cow Palace.
As Trials Resume in Massachusetts’s State and Federal Courts, Juror Privacy Issues Surface
After consulting epidemiologists from Tufts Medical Center, court leaders are gradually opening up for jury trials. However, not all details have been resolved. The JD Supra blog reports, “It has not been decided what will be done if a juror reports being sick or having been exposed to the virus in the middle of trial. This raises multiple issues that implicate juror privacy and the safety of all those involved, such as what to tell other jurors; what, if any, information the court can compel a juror to disclose; whether the court can encourage everybody involved to get tested, and if so, who would pay for the test? Other issues the court anticipates will need to be addressed as they arise are what to do if a lawyer or witness becomes sick or exposed to the virus; how to accommodate out-of-state lawyers and witnesses.”
After Being Told of Defendant’s Right to Not Testify, a Prospective Juror Said, “I Hope the Defendant Will Testify.” Is That Good Cause to Be Stricken?
In State v. Savage, the defendant appealed from a trial judge’s failure to strike the subject juror. A Missouri appellate panel rejected the claim by focusing on the distinction between a prospective juror “hoping” to hear the defendant testify versus “needing” the defendant to testify. The court stated, “While Juror #5 clearly indicated that it would be their preference that Savage testified, they just as clearly indicated that this was not a requirement. Nor did Juror #5 indicate at any point that they would draw an adverse inference from Savage's failure to testify, that they believed Savage had an obligation to present his side of the story, or that Juror #5 believed an innocent person would testify if prosecuted.”
Grand Jury Transcript Released in Breonna Taylor Shooting
The Chicago Tribune reports Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron does not object to a court order making public the entire record of the grand jury investigation of three police officers shooting Ms. Taylor. In a prepared statement, he noted, "We have no concerns with grand jurors sharing their thoughts on our presentation because we are confident in the case we presented.” He said he wanted the public to “see that over the course of 2 1/2 days, our team presented a thorough and complete case to the grand jury." All of this occurs after one of the grand jurors filed a lawsuit last Monday to have grand jury recordings released and to permit grand jurors to talk about their experiences.
Is Jury Sentencing Good?
That is the question being asked now in Virginia, where the legislature is considering repeal of a law that vests juries with sentencing power. The case of Commonwealth v. Ret. Army Major Douglas V. Johnson, Jr. demonstrates how sentencing authority can create burdens for jurors. There, after a judge imposed the jury’s 74-year prison term on the retired officer, five jurors expressed regret over the sentence. The Washington Post quotes two of the former jurors: “I was surprised that there wasn’t more leeway in the sentencing and we were not really allowed to ask any questions,” said Regina Hart, one of five who signed affidavits for the defense saying they thought Johnson deserved a chance to be released earlier. “We decided to sentence him to the minimum number of years that we could,” which was “too long,” said foreman Ronald Williams.
Will COVID-19 Usher the End of Civil Jury Trials in Canada?
Pointing to British Columbia, where civil trials are suspended until at least late 2021, and to Alberta, where there has not been a civil trial in nearly a decade, members of the Canadian mega-firm Lawson Lundell LLP are wondering aloud if civil jury trials will or should ever resume.