Can Speedy Trial Rights Be Respected During Pandemic Court Closures?

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Can Speedy Trial Rights Be Respected During Pandemic Court Closures?

Colorado is grappling with this dilemma.  Even though Colorado Chief Justice Nathan Coats has ordered that cases with imminent speedy trial deadlines must move forward, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown is asking the governor to invoke his emergency powers to delay all trials for six months. In a news interview, Brown said, “There’s a chance that we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions.  The Constitution wasn’t written with the idea that courts would be trying to do business in an epidemic. That’s why so many of a person’s constitutional rights involve things like confrontation, the ability to look somebody in the eye, and speedy trial, the ability to do things quickly and not have inordinate delays. Those constitutional rights are being tested by a virus that’s requiring people to physically space and to let business that isn’t an immediate public health issue be deferred.”  Behold a constitutional clash.

Veteran Trial Lawyer Calls Quarantine Time “Awful” and “Ideal”

Marc Mukasey says, “Forced sequestration feels like trial prep mode. So, own it. Prep like jury selection is next week.  Let videoconferencing and screen sharing be your team’s virtual war room. Share ideas with your team and run your themes by non-lawyers—they are your mock jurors and they bring perspective to your case. Then log off, embrace the silence, absorb the facts and the documents and the witness statements until they are etched in your DNA. It is a universal truth that no trial prep is ever ‘on schedule,’ so use this time and be the first trial lawyer in history to be ready-to-go way ahead of time.  The conditions are awful. The conditions are ideal.”

Federal 3rd Circuit Reviews Trial Judge Decision to Replace a Juror After a Verdict Is Announced

In United States v. James, defendant was convicted of wire fraud and embezzlement.  On appeal, Mr. James alleged that the trial court should have declared a mistrial after a juror, during a verdict polling, appeared to lack candor, clear memory, and English language proficiency.  Instead, the judge interviewed the subject juror with consent of the parties, decided to replace him with an alternate, and instructed the jury to restart deliberations as if they were beginning anew.  The appellate panel approved the trial judge’s exercise of discretion in light of the three options available to a trial judge under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 23, 24, and 31 (namely, declare a mistrial, proceed with 11 jurors, or seat an alternate).

Is It Improper for a Wife and Husband to Sit on the Same Jury?

In a negligent tort case, the losing plaintiff on appeal claimed it was legal error for the trial court to deny his motion to strike a wife and husband from the panel on the grounds that they presumptively had “implied biases.”  After reviewing relevant state law, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the trial judge’s denial of plaintiff’s motion.  The high court found that plaintiff failed “to explain why jurors being married to each other is it not listed as a ground for disqualification in [Ala. Code ยง 12-16-150] if the implied bias between a husband and a wife serving on the same jury is as obvious as he articulates it to be. Indeed, [plaintiff] does not cite a single authority that actually states that spouses should not simultaneously serve on a jury.”  The panel also cited case law from Kentucky and Oklahoma to support its conclusion.

Trial by Remote Technology – Will It Be Akin to a Hollywood Production?

Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle presents us a rich debate about the future of trial by jury after the pandemic ends.

Help us learn how COVID-19 is affecting jury yields in state, local, and federal courts

We anticipate that jury yields will decrease dramatically over the next several months as people at high risk of infection request to be excused or deferred from service or fail to appear entirely.  Because the pandemic is so unprecedented, we have very little insight about how many more jury summonses courts should mail to compensate for decreased jury yields.  NCSC's Center for Jury Studies is asking courts to “crowdsource” information about the impact of COVID-19 to help courts better anticipate the impact by participating in a national survey on jury yield.  The survey collects information about the average jury yield before the pandemic and monthly jury yield since March 2020.  We also hope to provide information on jury yields over time as the pandemic abates.  To participate, click here.  After a sufficient number of courts have entered information, NCSC's Center for Jury Studies will post findings overall and by court type, court size, and type of jury operations on the COVID-19 web pages.   Thank you for your assistance.  Stay safe!