Plexiglas partitions, arraignments of defendants from their homes and judges moderating virtual hearings have become the norm for courts across Michigan since COVID-19 was discovered in the state just over a year ago.
(TNS) — Plexiglas partitions, arraignments of defendants from their homes and judges moderating virtual hearings have become the norm for courts across
Courthouses — once full of defendants, their families, jurors and attorneys — are now empty halls of justice, with most hearings moved online to prevent the spread of the virus that has killed more than 16,000 Michiganians.
The use of technology to conduct proceedings remotely has allowed courts to continue functioning, and some hearings will remain remote even after the pandemic is over, including misdemeanor trials, civil matters, family court proceedings and motion hearings. In some courts, such as Wayne County Circuit, preliminary hearings have continued in person, with just the defendant, attorney, judge and support staff present.
But even with those innovations, courts across
A murder case that was scheduled to go to trial last month before
Such delays are especially troubling to defendants and their lawyers.
"Courts can't be on hiatus in the midst of a pandemic," said
"They can't be in front of a jury or trier of fact until the world opens back up again, which we don't know when that will be," he said. "So Zoom is good for a lot of things but bad for somebody who's maintaining their innocence. They're stuck in jail or even out on bond on a tether just waiting, waiting, waiting for their case to be in front of a jury."
"We have not been able to resume jury trials because of the rise in COVID-19 cases," said Chief Judge
She estimated the court's backlog at 80 to 90 cases "for which jury trials are expected, though some of these could settle before trial begins."
"Most of these trials will be associated with criminal cases," Kumar said. "A few are associated with civil and delinquency cases."
Under rules set by the State Courts Administrative Office, a county's courts can't resume jury trials unless the seven-day average of new COVID cases is at or below 70 per 1 million population and the positivity rate is 10% or less, Kumar said.
As of Sunday,
Kumar said court officials will consult with state and local officials about when to began having jury trials again.
"We want to be sure that the
Even when jury trials start up again, they won't look the same, at least for a while. Participants can expect to wear masks, face other restrictions and see plexiglass barriers around judges' benches, attorney tables and jury boxes.
And when a trial is in session, "no one will sit in the jury room," he said.
In an instance of "serendipity," judges and courthouses across
"We felt grateful that we had already gotten the Zoom licenses a year earlier," McCormack said. "We were unlike a lot of other state courts who had to scramble to find Zoom licenses. We were able to focus instead on training, tech support and tech tools. ... We really lucked out on that."
To date, local courts have logged about 2.4 million hours of proceedings and court appearances on Zoom, said
Whatever the shape of court proceedings to come, "my concern is what will justice look like" in the future, said Follmar, the
"Justice delayed can sometimes be justice denied," she said.
(c)2021 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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