Trials in New York City have been put on hold due to the coronavirus, despite efforts to make courtrooms safe. According to an article in The New York Times, only nine criminal jury trials have taken place in the city over the last nine months. This number is low- in comparison to the nearly 800 criminal hearings resolved in 2019.
The NYT article says that the pandemic has stalled every step of the legal process for state and federal courts. And with so many cases being delayed, postponed, or canceled, defendants cannot uphold their constitutional right to a speedy trial. They are also forced to spend more time in overcrowded New York City jails and risk contracting the virus as the second wave surges through the region. In November alone, the city’s jail population rose to 4,669 inmates, according to the NYT.
Before the city’s uptick in COVID-19 cases, however, court officials were starting to resume trials back in October. And safety measures—plexiglass boxes with special air filters, cracked windows, face masks, and shields—had been put in place to protect the health of those in the courtroom. The New York Times article also stated that the courts are regularly cleaned. But despite this, some attorneys and courthouse security officers continued to oppose the reopening of New York’s courts, claiming that’s not enough. And they could be right: nearly 36 people who visited NYC courthouses last month now have coronavirus, per the article.
While new jury trials have been postponed until further notice, The New York Times says that current cases in the city’s federal courts have also been suspended until mid-January. Courts across the country are experiencing similar setbacks. The article says federal judges have suspended jury trials in states like Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada because of surging COVID-19 cases.
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