Add Massachusetts to the growing list of states aiming to reopen its courthouses to jurors, with in-person jury trials slated to begin there as early as next month.
On Thursday, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court issued an updated order allowing for in-person jury trials to begin as early as October 23 under the first phase of a three-phase court reopening plan spelled out in an earlier Jury Advisory Committee Report.
That initial phase will allow trials decided by six jurors at selected locations, with no more than one jury trial at a time at each site. Cases and trial sites will be chosen by the Chief Justices of the various Trial Court Departments, who will consult with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court, according to state court documents.
State officials will evaluate progress under this phase before moving to Phase 2 of the reopening plan, which allows for higher priority cases to be heard by 12-member juries, including serious criminal cases and “civil cases of particular significance,” according to the advisory committee’s report.
Yesterday’s order anticipates the state could move into Phase 2 in February 2021.
The advisory committee’s report anticipates Phase 3 would allow for as many trials as safely possible and notes that “non-courthouse spaces may be increasingly necessary to address the case backlog if the [COVID-19] pandemic substantially into 2021.”
The advisory committee report anticipates Phase 3 to last until the COVID-19 ends.
Like other states across the country, Massachusetts faces an ever-growing backlog of cases caused by the coronavirus-related suspension of jury trials. Earlier this week, Massachusetts station WCVB estimated that more than 1,800 jury trials have been postponed since March when COVID-19-related orders emptied jury boxes across the state.
Other states have begun slowly returning to jury trials as well. A number of circuits in Florida, for example, have begun summoning jurors, and last month a court in Flagler County, Florida held the state's first fully in-person jury trial since March.
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