Today, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order to provide Iowans with the policies and procedures for the safe and fair resumption of jury trials in Iowa this fall. The order builds on the safeguards put in place by a July 9, 2020 supreme court order issued to guide judges, attorneys, parties, and all court employees as many courts resumed face-to-face services.
“This is another measured next step as we resume more face-to-face court services throughout the state,” Iowa Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott said. “Jury trials are guaranteed by the Constitution and are essential to providing justice for Iowans. These procedures are intended to protect the health and safety of our citizens as they resume their critical duties as jurors.”
Justice McDermott chaired the Jumpstart Jury Trials Task Force, a cross-section of judges, attorneys, and court personnel from across Iowa. Task force members consulted with public health experts and county officials to develop the policies and procedures in today’s order. The supreme court postponed jury trials and nearly all public, in-person court services in March to protect public health and safety due to the COVIDvid-19 public health emergency. In-person court services resumed in most counties July 13.
“Members of the task force realize that every courthouse is unique, so how these policies and procedures are implemented will vary based on the physical layout of the courthouse, local needs, and available resources in each county,” Justice McDermott said. “On behalf of the judicial branch I would like to express our continued appreciation for the strong, critical partnerships between individual counties and local court officials and thank members of the Jumpstart Jury Task Force, including my co-chair Guy Cook, for the time and effort they committed to researching the safest and fairest way to resume jury trials in Iowa.”
With today’s order, courts will summons more prospective jurors for a trial than were typically summoned before the COVID-19 public health emergency and the summonses will be mailed earlier. The larger jury pool is in anticipation of prospective jurors requesting deferrals because they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, are in a high-risk group, or are caring for someone in a high-risk group. The court may grant deferrals for up to 12-months. There will also be a phone number for prospective jurors to call if they begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. While the courts will summons more jurors, there will be fewer simultaneous jury trials scheduled in busy courthouses to accommodate physical distancing.
Prospective jurors will arrive at the courthouse at staggered times, check in at multiple locations, and will be provided a face covering. Everyone in court-controlled areas will be required to wear face coverings and to keep six feet of physical distance from others. Some courts may use paging or text messaging to notify prospective jurors when they need to report to the courtroom so they can remain outside the courthouse until called.
Courts may also limit the number of prospective jurors in the courtroom at one time for jury selection to enable physical distancing and will provide face shields to everyone speaking during jury selection, including prospective jurors who are questioned. Some courts may consider virtual jury selection with prospective jurors participating remotely by video conference. Others may use written questionnaires to be completed before jury selection to shorten the time needed for in-person questioning.
Once the trial begins, only a few jurors will be in the jury box, the rest will sit throughout the courtroom and there will be marks on the floor to show where attorneys can stand when speaking to witnesses or the jury. Anyone who speaks during the trial, including the judge, attorneys, and witnesses, will be required to wear a face shield enabling a full view of the face. To limit the time in the courtroom, the judge may exercise reasonable control over the time spent on opening statements and closing arguments by attorneys.
After the trial, the jury will meet in a room that permits appropriate physical distancing and all members of the jury will be required to wear a transparent face shield during deliberations. The room will have adequate sight lines and sufficient sound amplification so that jurors can hear and see each other while deliberating.
The supreme court plans to monitor the resumption of jury trials and will update today’s order as necessary. Today’s supreme court orders is available on the Iowa Judicial Branch’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage at https://www.iowacourts.gov/iowa-courts/covid-19-information-and-updates/.
For More Information:
Iowa Judicial Branch