Pandemic Rapid Response Team Advises on Seeking Jurors’ Vaccine Status

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Pandemic Rapid Response Team Advises on Seeking Jurors’ Vaccine Status

COVID-19 vaccination rates are increasing rapidly across the country thereby heightening the likelihood of resuming or expanding in-person jury trials.  Many courts are now asking under what conditions, if any, courts may ask prospective jurors to disclose whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine as well as how to use that information when summoning and qualifying jurors for service.  NCSC’s Pandemic Rapid Response Team (RRT) is a group of chief justices and state court administrators that meets regularly to create roadmaps to help state courts move forward during this pandemic—and after it ends.  The RRT just released a concise resource that identifies questions state courts should consider when developing policies related to the collection and use of information about the vaccine status of prospective jurors in the summoning, excusal, and in-court jury selection processes.

Senator Grassley’s Op-Ed After Chauvin Trial Asserts All Trials Should Be Televised

The U.S. Senator from Iowa told USA Today how much he admired Minnesota trial judge Peter Cahill for allowing TV cameras to broadcast the jury trial of Derek Chauvin.  Grassley believes televising the Chauvin case demonstrates the necessity for such coverage in all trials.  The senator stated, “Cameras in the Hennepin County courtroom didn’t tilt the scales of justice, disrupt court proceedings or infringe on due process of the accused. If anything, the live feed delivered unfiltered assurance to the American people. It showed our system of justice at work and affirmed the independence of the judiciary as an impartial arbiter of the rule of law.”

Study of Houston Jury Demographics Flags Connections Between Race and Conviction Rates

Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research have analyzed the extent and consequences of unequal White and Black representation on juries in Harris County, Texas. Working from “statistically robust” data, they found residents from predominantly White and high-income neighborhoods are substantially over-represented on juries. Using quasi-random variation in those called for jury duty each day, they established that Black defendants are more likely to be convicted and receive longer sentences from juries with more residents from these over-represented neighborhoods. They estimated that equal representation would reduce Black defendants’ median sentence length by 50 percent and the probability of receiving a life sentence by 67 percent. They suggest straightforward remedies to mitigate this severe bias.

Can Grand Juries Lawfully Meet Only Online?

The New Jersey Supreme Court answers in the affirmative.  In State v. Vega-Larregui, the defendant was indicted by a grand jury that convened only virtually after the governor declared a health emergency and the state supreme court authorized virtual grand jury proceedings.  Mr. Vega-Larregui claimed that the virtual grand jury format—and therefore the lack of an in-person proceeding—violates the right to a grand jury presentation and other constitutional provisions. He also claimed that the supreme court does not have the constitutional authority to order temporary virtual grand jury presentations for the duration of the pandemic.  In response, the state high court held:

[It] has the constitutional authority to make rules and procedures for all courts of this state, including the grand jury; the Court’s authorization of a virtual format for the selection of grand jurors and grand jury presentations during a lethal pandemic does not violate the State Constitution’s separation of powers. There is no support for the facial constitutional challenge to the temporary use of the virtual grand jury during the current public health crisis, and virtual grand jury proceedings do not facially violate the fundamental fairness doctrine. In individual cases where a defendant claims that an alleged error or defect undermined the fairness of the proceeding, a challenge may be mounted. But in this case, no error undermined the integrity of the grand jury proceeding; nor is there a basis for the dismissal of the indictment.

Scott Peterson Defense Team Given Time to Investigate Juror Misconduct

Years ago, Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his pregnant wife.  The conviction was upheld on appeal.  Last week, a California Superior Court judge granted Peterson’s defense team 60 days to investigate whether a former juror withheld relevant personal information about her experience of being a spousal abuse victim.

Arkansas Governor Signs Bill to Prohibit Mask Mandates

Following up on a story in last week’s Jur-E Bulletin about a bill that would outlaw mask mandates, Governor Asa Hutchinson has now signed the bill (assigned the title of “Act 1002 of 2021”).  With mask wearing not being required, time will tell whether Arkansas citizens will be less willing to show up for jury service.