Covid 19 And The Right To A Jury Trial

Brandon Draper (University of Houston Law Center) has posted And Justice for None: How COVID-19 is Crippling the Criminal Jury Right (Boston College Law Review Electronic Supplement, 2020) on SSRN. Here is the abstract: The jury trial is meant to be the beacon of the criminal justice system in the United States. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, access to fair and constitutional jury trials has largely come to a halt. Courts correctly decided to stop all jury trials and other in-person proceedings as the nation learned more about a new and deadly virus. Nevertheless, this decision denied access to this important constitutional right. Additionally, courts employed video conference technology such as Zoom and WebEx platforms to conduct arraignments, general docket appearances, and some pretrial hearings. Overall, this technology has greatly assisted in the continued function of most aspects of the criminal justice system.

Four months into the pandemic, some criminal courts are beginning to consider and test two adaptations of jury trials to attempt to meet the needs of the system:

(1) trials that are both in-person and compliant with social distancing policies; and

(2) trials conducted exclusively via video conference.

This Essay argues that at best, these solutions are grossly unfair to all of those who participate in the criminal justice system. And at worst, they likely violate the Sixth Amendment rights of the accused and create ethical concerns for prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors. Despite these legitimate concerns, courts should attempt to resume jury trials that are both in-person and compliant with social distancing policies. Courts may also allow remote trials for defendants who on advice of counsel wish to proceed on that basis. While an imperfect solution, it allows the accused to maintain their Sixth Amendment confrontation right or give a knowing and voluntary waiver, and provides the criminal justice system the best opportunity to mitigate the other issues created to attempt to ensure a fair jury trial.

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