In Person Jury Trials in Michigan Courts Resume Slowly

COVID-19 Court Closures

The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had its effects on pretty much everything in society today. Michigan courtrooms are no different; the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on the operation of Michigan courtrooms. Most courtroom business is now conducted over Zoom, changing a historic tradition of requiring defendants in appear in court, and in person for criminal matters. Along with these closures came significant reductions in the jail and prison populations in an effort to keep inmates safe from COVID-19. Michigan courts are now looking to continue the process of reopening safely under guidance from the state. Courts have been reopening different departments as they follow social distancing guidelines. Courts will not truly be open, however, until they are able to conduct in-person jury trials. Once this occurs, then it can be said that Michigan courts are really back to work as they were before the pandemic. Jury trials have been backed up in all courts across the state as they are the last thing on the list that courts will be able to do once open. If your case has been delayed due to a court closure, or you do not have information about your case, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can best help guide you.

Phased Reopening Plan

The Michigan State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) is the administrative arm of the Michigan Supreme Court. The SCAO was tasked with designing a reopening plan for Michigan courtrooms as we try to contain COVID-19. The SCAO came up with a four-phase process to direct courts how they are to reopen safely. Phase 1 is the most limited phase and any court that is in Phase 1 must be closed to the public and court business is mostly done online. Phase 2 allows for some limited in-person activity, while Phase 3 increases that in-person activity and combines it with remote activity. Once a court gets to Phase 4, they are free to go about business as courtrooms who reach Phase 4 will have no limitations. The SCAO reports that Michigan courts are mostly in Phase 2, as 52% of Michigan courts are in Phase 2. Next, 38% of Michigan courts are in Phase 3, with the remaining 10% of Michigan courts stuck in Phase 1. No Michigan courtroom has reached Phase 4 as of yet. Kentwood County has recently seen the first jury trial since the beginning of the pandemic.

What Happens Next?

In an unintended way, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Michigan courtrooms to lean much more on technology than ever before in their operations. Michigan courtrooms tended to be very traditional in their daily operations, often having minimal technology involved in much of the process. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mark McCormack noted that, “we’ve undergone more change in the trial court in the last four months than we have in the last two decades.” Increased usage with Zoom now allows you to look in live to any courtroom across the state, a feature that never existed before outside of CourtTV. As Michigan courtrooms still try to solve the puzzle of conducting jury trials in a safe way, some courts have used high school auditoriums and gymnasiums and seen success. As courtrooms try to handle their backlog of cases, they will undoubtably come up with more creative measures to conduct jury trials when they are able to do so.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or are being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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