Supreme Court releases guidelines for resuming in-person jury trials


RADIO IOWA – The state court system is moving closer to returning to holding jury trials across the state.

Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott co-chaired the committee which reviewed and made recommendations on the issue.
In an interview with Radio Iowa,  the justice says it’s important to have the jurors in the courtrooms. “There have been some states that have tried remote video conferencing jury trials — and I think there has been very limited or mixed success with most of those,” McDermott says.

The Supreme Court released a list of guidelines Wednesday it will follow for jury trials, and McDermott says they could be put in place soon. “It’s our hope that the jury trial process will get going in the next couple of months, ” he says. “We think that we have these protocols in place that can keep people safe and we can start giving people their right to a jury trial that is enshrined in the constitution.”

McDermott says many of the protocols are things we’ve already seen as other businesses and services opened back up. “Obviously everyone has had to deal with it and I don’t there’s anything that’s going to particularly shock anyone with any of the rules we have here. I think most of them are kind of standard practice now,” McDermott says.

One of the biggest challenges the court system faces is there are different types of courthouses in the 99 counties of the state.
“It’s really adopting all of them for 99 counties where these trials will take place,” according to McDermott. “That could be a challenge — because you have courthouses like the one in Polk County that is devoted almost solely to court operations. And then you have courthouse in more rural counties that might have a lot of other operations going on to — the county auditors office and recorder’s office and things like that.”

He says those smaller courthouses pose a social distancing challenge. “Those courtrooms are perhaps a little bit smaller and so just addressing all of the different iterations of the courthouses that our out there. It’s going to be challenging — but I think that we are up to it,” McDermott says.

He says one big issue is keeping the juror’s space six feet apart. “Jurors might have to sit in the gallery. They might have to sit in chairs that are situated outside the regular jury box. The hope is that we can get everyone in our courtrooms to make that happen. Otherwise were are going to have to find or try to find spaces outside of courthouses to hold trials,” McDermott says.

He says there will be some differences in how jurors are called to serve. They will have to call them in smaller groups and keep them out of the courthouses for as long as they can until they have to come in. “Like most other businesses we are going to have markings on floors, doing all of the regular measures that everyone seems to be doing with keeping spacing and wearing masks and things like that,” McDermott says.

They may summon larger jury pools than in the past in anticipation of some jurors not being able to come in because of virus symptoms. All of the proposed guidelines for restarting jury trials are on the judicial system’s website.

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