As the COVOD-19 pandemic continues, the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus remain in effect. Initially, the pandemic resulted in the near-total shutdown of the Massachusetts justice system, as all jury trials were suspended, and courts only heard emergency matters.
As the number of new cases in the area has started to drop off, courts have begun to reopen. However, many of the restrictions that were put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will remain to have an impact on the ability of the criminal justice system to function properly. There are several areas of concern related to conducting jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Sixth Amendment Right to a Fair Jury Trial
Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone charged with a crime enjoys the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of the person’s peers. An important part of this right is the requirement that the jury is drawn from a fair cross-section of the community. While there is no magic formula to determine what a fair cross-section looks like, courts have held that states cannot pass laws or implement policies that have the effect of limiting groups of people from serving on juries.
For a variety of reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has been shown to disproportionately affect people of color. One reason is that a large number of people of color work as “essential employees” and do not have the luxury of sheltering-in-place. Another reason is that many people of color have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at an increased risk of transmission. By resuming jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these prospective jurors will be placed in a difficult position of risking their lives to serve on a jury. This will necessarily result in fewer people of color in the jury pool and potentially in the denial of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair jury trial.
There are other concerns with obtaining a fair jury trial during the pandemic. For example, some have suggested that conservative-leaning individuals are more comfortable going out in public, while those who are more liberal tend to take the restrictions more seriously. This could also have the effect of keeping liberal-minded individuals off of a jury, as they may too cite health concerns as a valid reason to be excused from jury service.
Are You Facing Serious Criminal Charges in Massachusetts?
If you are facing the reality of a jury trial during the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure you have a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney on your side. These are uncertain times, and you need someone who is prepared to stand up for our rights in the face of a justice system dealing with unprecedented challenges. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy is a veteran criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients in all types of serious cases, including Massachusetts violent crimes. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Murphy to discuss your case, call 617-367-0450 today.