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New York Times

The jury’s duty is back, and it looks very different

New York — As New York continues to reopen and pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted, the vast federal and state court system is revived, safely returning people to buildings and backlogging cases while maintaining infection rates. In order to clear it, we changed the operation method. high. Nowhere is the change as noticeable as a jury trial. In the US District Court in Manhattan, witnesses testify from the Plexiglas booth. Defendants communicate with socially distant lawyers via telephone-style mobile phones. And the jury is no longer sitting crowded in the old-fashioned jury box. Instead, they are spaced on an elevated platform that extends behind the courtroom. The jury, signing up for the morning newsletter from the New York Times, began to open and spread another courtroom instead of cramming into a small conference room to plan and eat lunch. Like other visitors, they pass a rigorous medical examination, enter the courtroom, and wait for the jury’s selection in a chair meeting room six feet away. “Our ability to serve as a jury depended on having an environment that was safe and perceived to be safe,” to understand how to carefully resume the jury trial. Said Judge P. Kevin Castel, a member of the extraordinary committee of judges appointed to. In federal court in Manhattan and White Plains. The job has never been easier. The court suspended the jury trial more than a year ago due to a pandemic, then resumed it in the fall, and about two months later suspended the jury trial again. After consulting with experts such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior court executive Edward Friedland restructured 11 courts with disinfectants, gloves, masks, and even antibacterial pens. He said he had spent $ 1 million on the court. As the case stalled and the accused suffered in prison, the goal was to give them the right to a prompt trial and to reactivate the criminal justice system. “There’s what’s called the Constitution,” said Judge Colleen McMahon, who resigned from Supreme Court nearly five years later. Mr McMahon said the court had no problem choosing a jury since resuming the trial. In fact, for some, a jury duty may be preferable to being quarantined at home. Judge Loretta A. Preska oversaw a recent trial of a wage proceeding filed by a former Manhattan noodle shop worker and recalled a jury who appeared in a V-neck blouse with a large frill on the neckline. .. “When I praised it, she smiled broadly and replied that she had been at home for nine months and was happy to dress to come to court,” Preska recalled. Court officials said that, generally speaking, criminal proceedings take precedence over civil proceedings, and imprisoned defendants are tried before freely detained defendants. The court has successfully held more than 12 trials since it reopened in February. In New York’s state court system, about 200 cases have been settled by verdict, guilty conviction, or settlement since the jury reopened on March 22, a court spokesman said. There were some bumps on the road. When the jury proceedings began in a civil lawsuit in the Brooklyn Supreme Court, plaintiffs’ lawyers said they couldn’t continue while wearing the mask, claiming they were holding their breath. He asked to wear a face shield instead. Judge Lawrence Nipel denied the request and dismissed the case, citing state-wide court rules. “Masks must be worn in all courts,” he said. In the court renovation, authorities faced problems that would not normally occur in other situations. For example, in federal court in Manhattan, visitors are required to wear two face masks, or one N95 or KN95 mask. However, the Article Six of the United States conflict states that the accused has the right to confront the witnesses against him. So did that mean that the witnesses had to remove their masks while witnessing? In the end, the judge decided yes. But it raised practical concerns: how to protect judges and other people sitting near witness stands. Amira Roess, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University and one of the two experts consulted by the court, said: Another fluid dynamics professor, Rainard Löhner, studied court airflow by having court employees sit on witness stands and smoke e-cigarettes. “We know where the smoke goes,” explained Löhner. The court eventually built a Plexiglas booth for witnesses and equipped it with HEPA filters that trap particles that could infect the virus. The court also acquired a special phone-style cell phone designed to amplify whispering, allowing defendants and lawyers to communicate secretly during the trial while sitting further away. “Everyone is very impressed with what they did in court. They made it as humanly safe as possible,” said a New York federal defendant on behalf of thousands of poor defendants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Said David E. Patton, a lawyer in New York. However, Patton said in some trials that anxious jury “a swift decision that may not be completely conceivable because people are just worried about going home in stress.” He expressed concern that it could be reached. In the end, that didn’t happen in a four-day trial in federal court in Brooklyn this month, defendant lawyer Christopher Brian Wright said he was charged with threatening to shoot parolees in the face. According to Wright, everyone in court wore a mask. The jury sat away in the former audience gallery. Witnesses then testified from the currently vacant jury box while wearing a transparent face shield. According to Wright, the jury acquitted the client after more than three hours of deliberation. “I was worried about protecting someone during COVID, fearing that the jury would rush to the verdict to get out of it,” he said. “It wasn’t because the jury deliberated and acted as it did in the normal era.” The new world of COVID-era trials came last month in a federal court in Manhattan in a conspiracy to attempt bank fraud. The two men indicted underwent a larger test in a three-week trial. Judge Jed S. Rakoff oversaw the election of 12 regular juries and 4 agents to act as backups. This is a routine procedure that allows the jury to maintain full strength. If there are less than 12 juries in a federal criminal trial, the judge may have to declare suspicion. When the trial began, the pool of alternatives was rapidly depleted. On the second day, one alternative was exempted after complaining of financial difficulties. Two days later, Rakov used a second alternative to replace Jury No. 8, which stated that it tested positive for COVID-19. And that same day, another jury complained that Jury No. 8 was not always properly socially distanced, “Your honor, I feel very uncomfortable with the situation.” I wrote. Another alternative replaced her. The judge had to use the fourth and final alternative a week later to replace the jury who said his daughter’s school students tested positive. “It only gives a little excitement to the proceedings,” the judge joked as he moved forward without leaving any alternatives. However, the patched jury eventually reached the finish line when the jury convicted both defendants after nearly six hours of deliberation over a two-day period. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company