Courthouse Safety Protocols for Pandemic Protections
Bonora Rountree conducted a survey in July seeking to understand which safety protocols were most important to potential jurors. The survey included the protocols that are most often used in COVID-19 safety surveys (for example, masks, temperature screenings, wide availability of hand sanitizers) and added two jury-specific safety protocols — conducting trials online and completing jury questionnaires online, rather than in person.
The most important safety protocol for potential jurors is mandatory face masks, which is not surprising given the proven scientific efficacy of masks in reducing coronavirus transmission and the politicization of masks during the presidential election season. The second most preferred choice was for jury service and jury trials to be conducted online, followed by temperature screenings, and completing jury questionnaires online. Strict social distancing, onsite testing, disinfecting surfaces, and widely available hand sanitizers rounded out the list.
Ranked Courthouse Protocols for Pandemic Protections:
Since the pandemic started, we have assisted our clients with hybrid in-person/online jury selections. Hardship declarations show that most jurors are not seeking to be excused because of fears about COVID-19. Instead, jurors are seeking to be excused through hardship because their lives are upended by the pandemic. Examples include children who are home from school, elderly relatives removed from elder-care facilities, and individuals abruptly facing unemployment or severely reduced work hours.
Of the 65 hardship requests we reviewed, only nine of those potential jurors expressed fear of contracting COVID-19. Those individuals mentioned being in a high-risk group or having to take public transit to the courthouse, which they believed increased their risk of exposure. Though the pandemic does raise concerns about health and safety during in-person jury trials, the overwhelming majority of hardship questionnaires do not list concerns about COVID-19 as the basis for a hardship.
One truism of jury selection is: “jurors who are less likely to complete hardship forms are more likely to serve.” In the COVID-19 era, who are those jurors? Our other recent posts explore this question and are a must-read for any attorneys litigating cases during the pandemic.