Jury trials to resume amid a backlog of cases
It’s been a while since there was a jury trial in most counties in Michigan. In-person hearings were halted as COVID-19 infection rates soared in the fall, and most courts have yet to resume them.
With new infections falling, and state actions to loosen restrictions on businesses, courts are taking steps to start the wheels of justice moving again.
“Because we have a Constitutional mandate to have jury trials, I feel we have to figure out a way to do that between now and the end of the pandemic,” said Jackson County Chief Circuit Judge Susan Jordan in an interview with MLive.
Other counties agree. A court in Saginaw County held its first jury trial of the year earlier this year. In order to ensure adequate space, the court held its hearings at an events center.
Kalamazoo County is not one of those starting up trials again. The 9th Judicial Circuit Court in January issued a directive suspending jury trials. Its announcement said it won’t start them back up again until April 12.
Federal courts are still hearing cases. The Western District of Michigan, which includes a court in Kalamazoo, has slowed its rate of hearings, but not paused them altogether. It has also established guidelines for holding trials safely, providing a potential template for county courts to follow.
The federal courtrooms have been reconfigured to keep jurors distanced and limit the number of people allowed in the room at any given time. The courts also make judicious use of masks, face shields, and plexiglass separators.
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