Jury trials set to resume in most circuits in Virginia

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 7:33 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - While gavels have been struck and robes worn for various court proceedings over the last 7 months, jury boxes have sat empty.

But as of October 16, they’re once again allowed in Roanoke City, Roanoke County and Salem Circuit Courts.

27 of the 31 circuit courts in Virginia have received permission from a panel of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

“We got a letter from the chief justice. Those plans that we submitted, that described that we intended to safely conduct jury trials, that those were approved," said Judge David Carson.

According to Carson, Chief Judge for Virginia’s 23rd judicial district, the plans were up to 40 pages in length, and had an August deadline.

One of the caveats for the 23rd district’s plan is that only one jury trial can take place at a time in any of the three courthouses.

“I am in the highly uncomfortable position of having to look at very accomplished attorneys who have spent an inordinate amount of time preparing their cases for trials and telling one side or another, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t try your case, we have to push it to 2021,’" said Carson.

That means the backlog of cases with trials will continue through the new year.

But a change that has come through the pandemic is the chance to see fewer jury trials.

“We’ve communicated to the lawyers and litigants, ‘please make sure if you want a trial, that you’re going to try a case,'" said Carson.

And the trials will be longer as deep cleaning of the court room has to take place every two hours. Masks will be worn by everyone, and jurors will be spaced apart, for the foreseeable future.

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