Criminal Jury Trials Resume
Press Release from GoErie.com
Number of trials will be limited, Erie County President Judge Trucilla said. He halted jury trials in March due to virus.
The local courts will resume holding criminal jury trials on Aug. 18, five months after the COVID-19 outbreak halted such proceedings.
With Erie County in the green phase of the reopening, the local courts during the week of Aug. 18 will experiment with holding three jury trials, with masks and social distancing requirements in place, Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla said on Thursday at a news conference at the courthouse.
The tryout period will allow the local courts to “crawl before we walk” and let officials adjust to the latest developments in the outbreak, Trucilla said in an interview.
Trucilla said holding criminal jury trials is necessary especially for defendants who are incarcerated and who must be prosecuted during a certain time period. He said civil jury trials would resume later, but that the emphasis, for now, is on bringing back criminal jury trials.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle in what I call our new normal,” Trucilla said.
On March 17, as the coronavirus spread nationwide, Trucilla declared a local judicial state of emergency and paused all but the most pressing court hearings. Trucilla issued the emergency order after the state Supreme Court issued a general judicial emergency declaration that empowered local courts to do the same.
Since he issued the emergency order, Trucilla, with guidance from the state, has gradually allowed more court hearings to occur except for jury trials, which present a higher risk to the public.
The jurors who are picked for the trials in August will be sit in different areas of the courtroom, not just the jury box, to abide by social distancing rules, Trucilla said. He said jurors and others in the courtroom will wear masks and that protective plastic shields installed throughout the space will prevent close interaction between jurors and others in the room.
Trucilla said the judges will limit public access to trials to reduce the number of people in courtrooms and to accommodate the jurors. He said media representatives will continue to be allowed in the courtrooms.
The three judges who will preside over the three jury trials, Trucilla said, are Daniel Brabender, John J. Mead and David Ridge. Trucilla said court staff will assemble, in a large jury room, 20 prospective jurors in the mornings and another 20 in the afternoons and select the panels from those pools.
Prospective jurors worried about the coronavirus will be able to raise their concerns with the court staff and judges, Trucilla. He said prospective jurors could be excused based on issues related to the pandemic.
Trucilla on Thursday thanked a number of court officials for helping develop the local plan. He said Erie County Judge Elizabeth Kelly assisted him and also served on a statewide task force on the return of jury trials.