HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) – Police reports put Nicholas Philbrook’s home on fear that he had infected the coronavirus and passed it on to his father-in-law, a survivor of cancer in the mid-1970s who was in higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.
Philbrook and his wife, Heather Schmid of Camarillo, California, are trying to convince court officials that he should be relieved of his duties as jurors because her father lives with them. But court officials told him that was not a good reason and that he should appear in court early next month.
“My main concern is that you still have to enter a building, you still have to be around a certain number of people,”
People across the country have similar concerns amid the resurgence of the coronavirus, a fact that thwarted plans to resume court hearings in many tribunals for the first time since the pandemic began.
Over the past month, courts in Hartford, Connecticut, San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia, have had to delay the selection of jurors for trials because too few people have responded to jurors’ subpoenas. The non-response rate is much higher now than before the pandemic, court officials say.
Judges in New York, Indiana, Colorado and Missouri recently announced highways because people involved in the trials either tested positive for the virus or had symptoms.
“The real question is whether people are ready to appear in court and take part in a court hearing?” said Bill Raftery, a senior analyst at the National Center for State Courts. “Many courts have responded to jurors who have stated that it is inconvenient for them to appear in court and perform the duties of jurors and therefore offer deferrals only because of concerns about COVID.”
Also this month, state justice systems in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, and courts in Denver, Colorado, were among those that suspended all lawsuits because of the rising rate of viruses. On Friday, federal officials announced that about two dozen U.S. district courts in the county have suspended hearings and the trial of large jurors because of outbreaks of viruses and too few people to take office.
Courts are under pressure to reopen cases due to the backlog of cases during the pandemic.
Several courts conducted trials in person and by videoconference. Although videoconferencing may seem like the best bet, many criminal defense attorneys oppose it because it’s harder to determine witness trust and see if jurors are paying attention, said Christopher Adams, a lawyer in Charleston, South. Carolina, and president of the National Bar Association.
“For almost everyone, there is no compelling need for trials to continue during a pandemic,” he said, adding that most courts do not currently hold trials.
Adams said another concern was how representative the jurors would be if the trials continued – the impact of the virus and the level of concern about it in different demographics, such as blacks, Hispanics and older populations, who are dying at higher rates, could affect who feels safe to perform the duties of jurors.
“What we cannot allow is to hold trials where there is no fair division of the represented community,” he said.
But many criminal defense attorneys point to a major problem with non-trial – defendants who are being held pending trial. Although prisons and prisons across the country have released thousands of low-risk prisoners due to fears about the virus, many remain in custody.
A lawsuit in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut, looks at how the virus can cause production.
In October, 150 people were summoned to court in the case of Amber Foley, who is battling child pornography charges and is seeking her constitutional right to a speedy trial. This will be the first criminal trial in Connecticut, in the state or in federal court since the pandemic began.
Only about half of the potential jurors showed up, and many others were apologized for various reasons, including concerns about COVID-19. Only 19 people remain, less than the 31 people believed to be needed to select a jury of 12 and one deputy juror.
And then, two law enforcement officers tested positive for the virus, forcing the temporary closure of the courtroom to clean up and urging Judge Vanessa Bryant’s bailiff to go into isolation and be tested for contact with police.
Bryant decided last week to postpone the selection of Foley’s jury until mid-January. Like judges in other parts of the country, she decided that the interests of public health outweighed the interests of speedy court proceedings.
“Despite all the efforts made by the Court, the Court is reluctant to conclude that it is unable to appoint a representative jury of the 200 jurors without endangering the safety of all participants in the proceedings,” Bryant wrote in a ruling.
Federal officials have designated one courtroom for each of the three federal courtrooms in Connecticut, with an entire second courtroom set aside for jurors to meet for breaks and deliberations. Some Plexiglas has been installed, air circulation systems have been improved and seating for social distancing has been reconfigured. Masks are needed.
Foley was released on bail pending trial. Her lawyer, Todd Bussert, argued in court documents that the coronavirus did not outperform Foley’s swift judicial rights, and that other courts in the country had tried during the pandemic. He also noted that there are two children who attend face-to-face classes in public schools.
“That schools can operate and remain open … even when members of their communities take a positive COVID-19 test … refutes any hyperbolic allegation aimed at restricting the rights of defendants,” he wrote.
In San Diego, the criminal case had to be postponed last month because too few people appeared as jurors. Officials twice called 900 people, but only about 40 people showed up each time, KGTV reported.
In Norfolk, Virginia, efforts to resume court hearings during the pandemic stalled recently because approximately nine out of 10 possible jurors did not appear in court, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Lack of a court report is a crime in most places. Punishment may include fines and, in some cases, short prison sentences. Officials in some judicial systems said they were considering increasing enforcement to improve the response rate.
Philbrook, the California man, said he and his wife were trying to get a letter from their father-in-law’s doctor saying his health could be in jeopardy if Philbrook had to serve on the jury. Philbrook is also concerned about his own health.
“It’s just never known with this virus. He doesn’t seem to care, “he said. “It doesn’t seem to matter how healthy or unhealthy you are. You hear about healthy people who get it really bad. It bothers me. I feel healthy. I feel good, if I understand it, I should be fine, but I don’t really know. “