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Supreme Court of Missouri issues guidance for courts to begin resuming jury proceedings

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Supreme Court of Missouri today issued an order and procedures to guide the state’s 115 local trial courts in resuming jury proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The safety of jurors, visitors, court personnel, parties and attorneys is paramount, and no jurisdiction can resume jury proceedings until after sufficient planning and preparation have occurred,” the Court stated in its order. “The resumption of jury proceedings too early would not only risk the health of the participants, but it could also undermine public confidence in the courts and damage the integrity of trial by jury, a cornerstone of our justice system. … [E]very reasonable precaution should be taken in the context of jury proceedings.”

Recommendations for trial courts under today’s order include:

* Educate the public about the importance of jury service to the administration of justice and about how the court is addressing the safety and well-being of all participants in the trial process, including jurors.

* Freely allow individuals to defer jury service to a later time, especially for those who are at high risk for infection, who have tested positive for the virus or are in self-quarantine, and who are assessing, treating and caring for those with COVID-19 in the health care field or in a hospital, and offer a way for individuals to seek deferral without appearing in person.

* Suspend issuing and executing warrants for potential jurors’ failures to appear, instead working with individuals to defer their jury service as appropriate.

* Ensure availability of facilities – whether in the courthouse or elsewhere – with adequate space to accommodate proper social distancing at all times, to provide each juror with adequate sight lines to the witness stand, and to ensure jurors can hear and see all proceedings.

* Limit the number of potential jurors involved in jury selection at any one time, and consider using jury questionnaires to reduce the number of potential jurors needed for the in-person jury selection process.

* Consider alternative means of publishing exhibits to jurors, including use of technology or making individual copies for jurors.

* Ensure occupancy limits on courtrooms do not infringe on a victim’s right to attend and be heard or the public’s right to view court proceedings that are not otherwise closed or confidential according to the law.

Today’s order supplements the order here and operational directives the Court issued last month to begin resuming court activities through specified phases. The phases in which local courts are operating, as well as any local orders they have issued, are available from the Missouri Courts interactive COVID-19 alerts page.