CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Jury trials may resume in the Mountain State beginning today Monday, June 29, provided courts follow Supreme Court COVID-19 protocols, according to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court provided guidance to judicial officers Friday, June 26, following its May 6 Resumption of Operations Administrative Order. The Court says the guidance document outlines best practices judges and circuit clerks may use to protect the health and safety of employees, litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, and the public as trials resume.
“The Constitution of West Virginia provides that ‘the Courts of this state shall be open’ and that justice shall be administered ‘without delay.’ Defendants’ rights relating to a trial by their peers must be respected even during a sustained health emergency. However, participation in such a trial, whether as a party, attorney, witness or juror, should not endanger anyone’s health.” said Chief Justice Tim Armstead.
All trial participants will be required to wear masks or face-coverings in courtrooms and
related facilities, according to court officials. Social distancing will also be strictly enforced. Those with COVID-19 symptoms or those with suspected contact with COVID-19 will not be permitted to enter judicial buildings.
The Court also says due to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state health officials recommendation for vulnerable individuals continue to self-isolate, immediate family members in the same household or direct caregivers of those in high-risk categories may, in certain
circumstances and upon request, be excused by the presiding judge from jury service. Health care workers currently assigned to treat COVID-19 patients or suspected patients may also be excused if the presiding judge decideds the request is warranted.
Potential jurors who recently traveled out-of-state may have their service delayed by the presiding judge until they have completed the recommended 14 day quarantine period. The court says all such exceptions to jury service must be approved on a case by case basis by the judge presiding over the trial.
It is up to the clerk and responsible circuit judge to determine the standards for which
disqualifications or excuses may be granted.” according to the guidance document. “Ultimately, it is still the responsibility of the circuit clerk and responsible circuit judge to manage the jury pool appropriately.”
The document encourages judges to use existing court space where possible. Alternative spaces in the community may be used, subject to certain approvals and orders by county officials if there is not a suitable place within the courthouse. According to court officials, these facilities could include schools, auditoriums, civic centers, colleges, or universities that have appropriate audio and video technology to conduct a
trial and can be properly secured.
Judicial officers may also consider holding jury panel orientations in a large alternative
location until a jury is chosen and then hold the trial in the regular courtroom, officials say.
“Courts need to make sure that jurors are not only safe – but that they also feel safe.
Court personnel, including judges, should set the tone of safety during trial by abiding by
the COVID-19 Protocols to show the jurors that we take their health seriously,” according to the document
Court officials say potential jurors should not simply fail to appear for jury service because of fear of
COVID-19 exposure but should instead seek to be excused by the presiding judge. Under West Virginia law, a person summoned for jury service who fails to appear without being excused by the presiding judge can be found guilty of civil contempt and be subject to substantial fines. Officials say this requirement is not automatically waived or suspended during a pandemic.
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