Because criminal and civil jury trial cases continue to back up due to the coronavirus shutdown, the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts has announced that jury trials will resume "by September."
This will be done on a limited basis at first, beginning with Bergen and Atlantic Counties, and the Cumberland-Gloucester-Salem County vicinage. Cumberland and CGS cover portions of the state that have been relatively less affected by the Covid virus. Bergen, on the other hand, is one of the harder-hit counties.
Safety Measures Will Be Taken
Social distancing and other protective measures will be in effect. Among these is a provision for plexiglass separation between jurors, and even having some jurors in the courtroom and others watching on closed circuit TV from another room. Lawyers will be separated from their clients by plexiglass barriers, and presumably by distance.
All of this raises potential constitutional issues in the criminal cases, and certainly not all of those can be foreseen. Things will happen that will require trial judges to make decisions on the fly to ensure that the process remains fair and complies with the federal and state constitutions.
More complicated jury selection procedures could add additional expense for parties in civil cases, and stretch out trial proceedings by making consultation between attorneys and clients more cumbersome. Again, the trial judges will have a hard task to make sure that the parties are treated fairly while the keeping the cases moving along.
Jury Service Raises Concerns
For those of you who may be called to serve as jurors, those age 65 and over will be deferred to a later time, presumably when the virus is determined no longer to be a threat. Those with medical reasons to be excused from jury duty will be able to apply to the court to have their service deferred. That said, please remember that the jury system only works when you, the citizens, bear the time and inconvenience to serve as a juror to help see that justice is done for your fellow citizens. Jury service is both a high duty and great satisfaction of citizenship, and along with voting is the most direct way the individual can participate in the governance of our state. When you are asked, please consider the big picture and serve enthusiastically.