Amid all the ongoing COVID-19 news, I have heard that Utah is proposing a program to get jury trials up and going again. This is very exciting news and a prospect that I have looked forward to for a long time. Both ksl.com and sltrib.com reported that the Utah Courts reported on January 15, 2021, they will be making a “cautious return” to jury trials. COVD-19 has created a definite back-log of jury trials. It is further reported that the first jury trial will occur on January 25, 2021, in Salt Lake County, with another to follow in Duchesne County in early February. Other district courts are busy putting together their own plan to follow suit.
It is said that the Court has worked closely with medical personnel to ensure that the jurors are protected. Juror selection will now include questions surrounding a person’s living circumstances as well as how comfortable they feel presenting in-person during a court setting. If selected, potential jurors will be given temperature checks and required to wear masks at all times while inside the courthouse. Additionally, on the first day of trial jurors will be given a rapid COVID-19 test along with attorneys, bailiffs, witnesses, court personnel, and defendants. Of course, the Court plan on having extra jurors available in case anyone becomes ill during the process.
Jurors will also be asked to sit socially distanced from one another. Currently, spectators will not be allowed in open court. Witnesses will be allowed to remove their masks when they are testifying in a well-ventilated area away from others in the courtroom. Courts will also be frequently cleaned and sanitized paying close attention to high touch areas. It is said that the highest priority trials will be for those sitting in jail who need their day in court. Currently, it is estimated that there are approximately 900 cases awaiting jury trial, for individuals who are being held both in-custody and out-of-custody.
Overall, it seems Utah is being appalled for trying to move jury trial forward in a safe and cautious manner for all involved, including closely working with medical personnel and adhering to their advice. It will be wonderful to get the jury trial moving again while keeping everyone as safe as possible. Other states attempted jury trial for smaller cases via video conferencing but Utah was reluctant to conduct trials in this manner.