COVID-19 Impacts on Jury Trials
Your Right to a Fair Trial May Be Jeopardized
When COVID-19 first impacted the US back in February, countless damages resulted. Unemployment skyrocketed, lives were (and still are) suffering, and people were forced to drastically alter their lifestyles to accommodate the public health measures in place. Stay-at-home orders are still heavily enforced, and even though some states are lifting their restrictions, courthouses remain closed for the most part.
The state of Texas announced that non-essential court proceedings are delayed until June 1st. For essential court proceedings that require jury trials, social distancing and face masks are required. Tarrant County announced that jury trials will be canceled until June 19th. This raises questions about what jury trials will look like once they resume. Even if restrictions are lifted, jurors may still refrain from going to jury duty for safety reasons. As a result, the quality of the jury pool for trials could suffer.
Jury Duty May No Longer Be a Duty During COVID-19
Some people enjoy jury duty, while others dread it. This has always been the case. However, the number of people who want to refrain from jury duty could skyrocket, but this time for reasons other than the inconvenience.
If personal safety is on the line, there’s a chance that jurors may use COVID-19 as a reason to avoid jury duty, whether they’re genuinely concerned about contracting the virus or not. They could argue that they are at high risk (underlying disease, have children, elder, etc.). As a result, trials may consist of a less diverse jury; perhaps it may include those who come from less impacted areas of Texas or consist of those who are at a lower risk of contracting the disease.
As of May 28th, Tarrant County has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases, following Harris County and Dallas County. This suggests that when Tarrant County jury trials begin operating after June 19th, they may experience the heaviest impacts compared to the other 253 Texas counties.
Defendants Shouldn’t Pay the Price
It’s not fair to allow COVID-19 to serve as an excuse for the lack of jury pool diversity. Although this argument is a mere speculation, it’s a valid one. Defendants have a Constitutional right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment, and there’s too much at stake to allow for a hindered jury trial to decide the fate of a defendant’s future. Whether the lower quality jury pool stems from the lack of diversity in jurors’ socioeconomic, racial, gender, health, and age status, to name some, this potential threat must be addressed.