Juries out again: New York suspends jury trials as second COVID-19 wave takes hold

An empty jury box is seen at the New York State Civil Supreme Court in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 11, 2020.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Robert Pozarycki

Jury trials across New York state were suspended once again as the second wave of COVID-19 takes hold, state Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced Monday.

Courts resumed jury trials in September after many months of suspension due to capacity restrictions and fears of the virus’ spread in confined settings such as courtrooms. While the state has brought 47 trials to verdict since September, and another 12 in New York City over the last month, DiFiore said the latest outbreak of COVID-19 has forced the state courts to again put scheduling new jury trials on ice.

“Effective today, and until further notice, we are temporarily postponing the scheduling of new jury trials, and temporarily postponing the summoning of new trial jurors,” DiFiore said on Nov. 16. “Jury trials and bench trials that are now in progress will be allowed to proceed to completion.”

The summoning of new prospective grand jurors has also been suspended.

Any newly-commenced bench trials and hearings will now move forward through virtual hearings “unless authorized by our deputy chief administrative judges,” the chief judge noted.

“We are taking these steps in response to the increasing COVID positivity rate, the growing number of communities experiencing COVID-19 clusters, the advice of our epidemiologist who has reviewed our relevant data, and the governor’s latest directive restricting in-person gatherings in commercial and residential settings,” DiFiore added.

The state court system will continue to monitor the progress of COVID-19 across New York state before making any “necessary adjustments” to the schedule. All grand jury and petit jury operations will resume once the courts deem it safe to do so.

“As we’ve said all along, our number one priority is the health and safety of our judges, our professional staff and the public we serve,” DiFiore said. “We will not put anyone’s health and well-being at risk, and we will do everything in our power to help prevent the further spread and resurgence of COVID-19.”

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