Keeping Tabs on Jury Trial Cancellations Due to the Pandemic

Keeping Tabs on Jury Trial Cancellations Due to the Pandemic

If you want to grasp the impact of the COVID-19 upon jury trials across the country, visit the NCSC pandemic page, which includes a dataviz highlighting states that have suspended jury trials.

Argentina’s President to Implement Jury Trials in All Federal Courts

President Alberto Fernandez announced at the inaugural session of the 138th Congress that he intends to implement a 167 years old constitutional provision establishing jury trials in criminal cases.  With respect for the long delay in implementation, he stated, “ Time has not passed in vain and the Argentine provinces have shown in the last five years that the jury trial is a resounding cultural and political success.”  As often the case in the USA, it looks like the states inspired national policy.

Colorado Case Exposes Reasons Why Some Jurors Don’t Admit to Criminal Histories During Jury Selection

Defense attorneys in Boulder, Colorado are asking a trial judge to throw out their client’s murder conviction because two jurors gave false statements during jury selection.  At the time of this writing, the judge had not yet ruled on the motion.  However, the trial record tells us something about how citizens can react to questions about their own or their family’s prior criminal histories.  The Daily Camera newspaper reports that one juror said her omission was an honest mistake and that she simply forgot she and her husband had been arrested for felony child abuse 18 years ago because she was stressed out at work and has closed off that part of her life.  Another juror said that he didn’t disclose the fact that all three of his children had been arrested on a variety of charges, including theft, trespassing, and driving under the influence, for fear of being stigmatized as a black man.  These disclosures might serve as test cases to prompt discussion of ways to improve juror candor.

An Emotional Judge Locks Up Misbehaving Prospective Juror for Five Days

Last week, 326 citizens showed up for jury selection in a triple homicide case in the Circuit Court of Autauga County, Alabama.  After the venire panel was reduced to 110 on the second day of voir dire, the entire panel had to be dismissed and the trial rescheduled.  A prospective juror, despite previous instructions to the panel on day #1, allegedly shared media reports about the case with other panel members.  Local media reports that the “visibly angry” trial judge called Juror 99 to the front of the courtroom, had a sheriff's deputy handcuff him, and sentenced him to five days for contempt of court.  “The clicks of the handcuffs could be heard throughout the hushed courtroom.”  The judge then turned to the venire panel and said,  "By a show of hands, how many of you could have been doing something else these past two days?  By a show of hands, how many of you lost money by being away from your jobs these past two days?  By a show of hands, how many of you could have been spending time with your families these past two days?  I'm angry. And so should you be."

And While You’re Waiting for Jury Trials to Resume...

Before COVID-19 disrupted our lives, the NCSC Center for Jury Studies noticed an uptick in requests from courts for advice on updating juror orientation videos.  So we identified as many online juror orientation videos as we could find, reviewed them for content and quality, and developed an online database where jury managers can view examples of different types of videos (e.g., pre-service, in-service, public service announcements, and videos on specialized topics) and different types of content (e.g., history of jury trials, descriptions of courtroom staff, explanations of voir dire procedures).  The database includes 77 state and local juror orientation videos produced within the past 10 years from 33 states and the District of Columbia.  In creating the database, we also developed some well-informed opinions about features that enhance or undermine orientation video effectiveness, which are posted with the instructions for using the database.  If we’ve missed your video, or if you’ve recently updated your video, please let us know so we can include it in the database.