The Missouri Supreme Court has issued additional guidance for circuit courts as they navigate resuming jury trials in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court issued an order supplementing its May 4 order and operational directives for gradually reopening the state’s courthouses to in-person proceedings.
In the new order, the court said that the safety of jurors, visitors, court personnel, parties and attorneys is paramount, and no jurisdiction may resume jury proceedings without first undergoing sufficient planning and preparation.
“The resumption of jury proceedings too early would not only risk the health of participants, but it could also undermine public confidence in the courts and damage the integrity of trial by jury, a cornerstone of our justice system,” the order said.
The Supreme Court pointed to new research indicating that COVID-19 may be spread through the air by normal breathing and conversation in addition to the spread of droplets from sneezes and coughs.
“Therefore, every reasonable precaution should be taken in the context of jury proceedings,” the order said.
Under the new guidelines, in order to resume grand or petit jury proceedings under any operating phase, presiding judges first must determine whether their circuits have the proper facilities and equipment in place to conduct jury proceedings in compliance with social distancing protocols, local restrictions on occupancy rates and other recommended health and safety strategies.
Jury proceedings are not generally anticipated to resume before a court implements Phase Three of the Supreme Court’s operating phases, the order said. The order noted that the earliest a court could enter Phase Three under its requirements is June 13.
The order said courts should take efforts to educate the general public about the importance of jury service and the steps the courts are taking to ensure the safety and well-being of potential jurors as jury trials resume.
The Supreme Court also recommended that courts suspend warrants for jurors who fail to appear when summoned and to suspend the execution of warrants previously issued for that reason until after the pandemic subsides.
Instead, the court recommended that circuits follow up with non-responders with a second notice and second summons. Courts may offer deferral in place of a warrant.
Additionally, the order recommended that courts should be capable of seating jurors 6 feet apart, limiting the number of potential jurors involved in jury selection and ensuring that members of the public may view public court proceedings.