Courts During the Pandemic
Courthouses across the state of Michigan are slowly trying to phase in the remainder of regular courtroom activity. Courts have been reopening different departments as they follow social distancing guidelines and the reopening plan set by the State Court Administrators Office (SCAO). 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. In St. Clair County, trials have been postponed since April because of the pandemic. It looks as if that will soon change if a Circuit Court judge’s ruling denying a motion to adjourn jury trials stands. 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.
Judge Decides to Move Forward with Jury Trials
St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Michael West denied a motion from the St. Clair County Public Defender’s Office to adjourn all jury trials currently represented by the Public Defender. Judge West indicated that the proper safety precautions have been put in place, allowing the safe resumption of jury trials. The configuration of the courtrooms will change to allow the resumption of the trials. The benches that are typically behind the attorney area where the public normally sits will become the new jury boxes. The public will not be allowed to be physically inside the courtroom but will be able to livestream anything going on in the courtroom online for free.
St. Clair County Chief Public Defender Michael Boucher voiced concerns of fairness, stating that the challenges in conducting a jury trial during the current pandemic will not allow clients to have a proper and fair trial. He argued that masks and social distancing will affect jury selection by covering jurors faces and expressions. Boucher also complained that putting a mask on defendants and attorneys could also skew perceptions and lead to unjust verdicts. His concerns were not shared by the judge, and jury trials have been ordered to commence immediately.
What Happens Next with Michigan Jury Trials?
Jury trials in St. Clair County look to be moving forward unless something changes in the near term. The push to continue to try to reopen all phases of business within courthouses across the state has been balanced by the guidelines set by the SCAO to make sure that courthouses are opening in a safe and prudent manner. Situations just like this one will inevitably continue to take place until an order comes from SCAO or the Michigan Supreme Court to open courts fully if and when we are finally past the pandemic. One thing to keep an eye on is the potential for appeal issues related to issues of fairness during jury trials once they resume. If something occurs during a “pandemic jury trial” that results in a violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights to a fair trial, then it could create appealable issues that court result in the reversal of a conviction. These rights can include a violation of the confrontation clause where a defendant is not able to fully face his or her accuser. A similar issue relating to this was previously brought up in a recent Michigan case where a prosecutor wanted a witness to be able to testify over videoconference. The Michigan Supreme Court roundly rejected the idea of remote testimony, ruling 6-0 in favor of a man who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct at trial after remote testimony was taken. The Supreme Court made it clear that the ability to waive the rights associated with confrontation rests only with defendants and not prosecutors. If a prosecutor is offering to have any testimony taken against you done remotely, then you have the Constitutional right to object as it violates the confrontation clause.
Any Further Questions?
If you or a loved one is facing the potential of a criminal jury trial, 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. 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.