Trial by a jury of one’s peers is one of the cornerstones of our justice system. The U.S. Constitution says that in all criminal cases, the defendant is entitled to a trial by an impartial jury. The same right is set forth in Article VI § 17 of the Arizona Constitution. But what will jury trials look like now that the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across Arizona and the rest of the country?
On July 6, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court announced that jury trials in all the courts (as well as new grand juries) were suspended throughout the month of July. Even prior to that, on July 1, the Presiding Judge in Maricopa County suspended jury trials through July 31.
Whether or not jury trials go forward on August 1, or on some date after that, we can tell you that in Phoenix, whenever juries are once again part of the criminal justice landscape, safety will likely be paramount. Here are some of the changes are already in place for persons entering the Maricopa County Courthouse:
- Masks are required for anyone entering the courthouse.
- Everyone going into the Maricopa Superior Court has their temperature taken upon entering.
- Attendance at in-person hearings is limited to those essential to the case, such as defendants, victims, lawyers, and witnesses.
- Social distancing and other recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to be followed.
How Will Jury Trials Work?
There will be numerous changes affecting service on a jury once jury trials are up and running. Here are just a few of them:
- The jury assembly room in Phoenix (Maricopa County Superior Court) has the capacity to hold over 800 people. That room will be limited to 30 people in order to comply with social distancing requirements.
- The court will encourage potential jurors to fill out the juror questionnaire online prior to appearing for jury duty.
- Buses that transport jurors from the parking garage to the courthouse will hold only 14 people.
- Social distancing will be maintained inside the courtroom. In some cases, this may mean that not all jurors will be able to sit in the jury box; some may be relegated to the gallery.
- Jury deliberations will not take place in the existing deliberation rooms – they’re simply too small. We anticipate the use of empty courtrooms for jury deliberations.
Of course, there is still the issue of whether the jury trial suspension will be lifted in August. The status of the pandemic in Arizona during the next couple of weeks will likely be critical in that decision.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004