Jackson County, Federal Courts Cancel Jury Trials

The Jackson County Circuit Court has cancelled all jury trials through the end of the year in response to a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.

“Every day is a new day in the fight against this pandemic,” Presiding Judge David M. Byrn said in a statement on Nov. 18. “Unfortunately, the recent significant spike in cases, hospitalizations, deaths and increasing concern about community spread has led the court to determine that jury trials should be cancelled through the end of the year.”

So far, the court has held five criminal jury trials, all in the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse in Independence. The court had been unable to resume trials in downtown Kansas City because of court employees’ COVID-19 cases.

Under the Missouri Supreme Court’s operational directives, the circuit court is required to move to either Operating Phase Zero or One, limiting in-person proceedings, if court employees contract COVID-19.

In circuits with multiple buildings, like Jackson County, some buildings may remain in a more advanced operating phase while others revert back to a more restricted phase.

In a news release, the court touted positive feedback it had received from jurors, noting that the majority of respondents said they felt safe during their service.

The court has implemented several health and safety procedures, from revamping the jury selection process to bringing in fewer jurors at a time to sanitizing public spaces multiple times a day.

“The court is pleased that our efforts to maintain the health and safety of citizens called to serve as jurors were successful and jurors felt safe while fulfilling their civic responsibility,” Byrn said. “However, changing circumstances have led to the decision to temporarily postpone additional jury trials.”

The court follows decisions to suspend trials in Missouri’s federal courts as well.

On Nov. 6, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri announced it would postpone all civil jury trials through the end of the year.

The court limited in-person proceedings to criminal hearings or trials in which an in-person appearance was necessary and closed in-person access to the clerk’s offices in St. Louis and Cape Girardeau. A subsequent order extended the closure of the clerk’s offices through Nov. 25.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District followed suit on Nov. 13, issuing an order continuing all civil and criminal jury selections and trials through Jan. 4. All courthouses will remain open to the public, however, under the current order.

By: Jessica Shumaker | Missouri Lawyers Weekly | molawyersmedia.com

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