Best Practices to Address COVID-caused Criminal Case Backlogs

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Best Practices to Address COVID-caused Criminal Case Backlogs

The National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers last week held a webinar reviewing research-based approaches to modernize criminal case processing and reduce backlogs.  The free recording of the program is accessible here.

"Another Zoom Trial First: Gaming Controllers for Remote Jury"

That is the headline of a Law 360 story (subscription required) about a federal jury trial in Seattle captioned Ironburg Inventions Ltd. V. Valve Corp.  It is a patent infringement case in which Ironburg claims Valve (maker of popular video games such as Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Portal) unlawfully used Ironburg’s patented “back controls” that allow gamers to execute functions with middle fingers.  Judge Thomas Zilly authorized a controller to be sent to each juror for their examination at home during the trial that started this week.

Juror Says "Holy Spirit" Told Him Defendant Is Not Guilty. Should He Be Replaced During Deliberations?

Federal judge Timothy Corrigan did replace that juror.  On appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the defendant claims, “Disqualifying jurors . . . based on how they express their religious beliefs would not only deprive criminal defendants of a jury drawn from ‘ordinary people,’ . . .  but also discriminate among and second-guess religious beliefs and practices in a way that violates core First-Amendment principles.”  The Florida Times-Union reports the court en banc will hear oral arguments next month.

More Courts Expanding Source Lists for Jury Summoning

Last week, the Jur-E Bulletin noted that California enacted a law to add income tax rolls to its jury-summoning source lists.  The Des Moines Gazette now reports a bill was introduced in the Iowa state house to accomplish the same goal in the Hawkeye State.  And, The Times-Picayune reports that, in recognition that Blacks are underrepresented on juries, federal courts in the Eastern District of Louisiana are adding driver licenses to their summoning source list which now only includes voter registrations.

Legislator Wants Non-disclosure of All Auditor Reports Lest There Be Tainting of Juries

The Bismarck Tribune reports that State Representative Pat Heinert introduced a bill to require the state auditor and others not to divulge "any information relating to a matter forwarded to the attorney general or a state's attorney for further investigation until the attorney general or state's attorney has made a determination as to whether there is probable cause to believe a violation of law has occurred."  Heinert, a former sheriff, said he introduced the bill because publicized cases could taint a county's jury pool and lead to expensive changes of venue. He previously told the Tribune what brought his attention to the issue was a controversial 2019 audit of North Dakota's Commerce Department.

More on Case Where Defendant’s COVID Infection Caused Trial Delay

Last week’s Bulletin featured a Texas Tribune story about a weekslong trial that was recessed before a jury verdict was announced because of a late-arriving report from the county jail that the defendant tested positive for COVID.  During the past week, the trial judge in the case kindly provided this first-hand supplement to the story:

"I advised sheriff’s transport not to bring the defendant to the courthouse on Wednesday. The jury returned that morning and advised the court shortly after lunch that it had a verdict. I addressed the jury in the adjacent courtroom that they had been using for deliberations and told them that “someone involved in the trial” had tested positive for COVID, and that I would have them return in about eighteen days to receive the verdict. They returned a guilty verdict on that 18th day and proceeded with the punishment phase of the trial. . . . It should be noted that all of the court’s actions took place with full input of the attorneys. It also might also be of interest that neither of the two defense attorneys, nor the court’s bailiff, contracted the virus."