State of Delaware courts are resuming jury trials - with new precautions in place for COVID-19
Jury trials have been on pause since the pandemic began in March. And after a lot of creative planning, the state is confident it can bring jurors back to the courthouse.
Sean O’Sullivan is the Chief of Community Relations for the state courts. He explains how they were able to change the way trials run.
“Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Judges, court staff have all been involved in this to ensure that this process remains as fair and as equitable as it ever was," said O'Sullivan. "So we worked very hard with that, we worked with our partners throughout the criminal justice system to make sure that everybody was comfortable with the processes that were set up here.”
Kent County will be the first courthouse to resume jury trials starting Monday Oct. 10. New Castle County follows the next day, Tuesday Oct. 20, and Sussex is expected to re-open in November.
In Kent, jurors will gather in courtroom one, the largest courtroom in the building, where they will remain throughout orientation, jury selection, and the trial itself. O’Sullivan says this is to keep people from moving around the courthouse and reduce contact with others.
O’Sullivan says on top of the increased safety measures, fewer jurors will be required to show up.
“All the jurors who’ve been brought in have been given an extensive questionnaire that includes COVID-19 related questions, " said O'Sullivan. "So we’re doing as much as we can ahead of time to make sure that we don’t bring anyone on down to the courthouse who we're ultimately gonna dismiss anyway or who has an issue related to COVID-19.”
O’Sullivan says the new questionnaire process will give judges only around the 45 jurors that are needed for a selection process to take place
Jurors can’t be excused just because they’re afraid of serving during the pandemic. But if they are at a higher risk to contract the virus or becoming seriously ill, or care for someone who is, that is grounds for excusal.
The courthouse will start with trials that don’t involve an incarcerated individual, since that would mean a bigger logistical and security challenge. The court will move ahead with those trials when it feels safe with the jury process.
A previous version of this story had jury trial starting in New Castle County Oct. 5 and Kent Count the week of Oct. 12. It has been updated to reflect both with will resume the week of Oct. 19.