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Jury Trials To Resume In Utah After Pandemic Pause

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — After nearly a year on pause, jury trials will soon resume, giving suspects behind bars their day in court and residents assembled for jury duty.

The Third District Court in Salt Lake City will begin with small, one to two day criminal jury trials as part of a COVID-safe pilot program.

“We’re quite excited about this,” said Presiding Judge Mark Kouris. “We’ve had a lot of jury trials that are languishing, and it’s absolutely killing us, and now, we’re getting back on the train — back on the tracks, if you will.”

They’ll choose 11 jurors instead of the traditional 8, officials said, so they can step in if a juror is disqualified or tests positive for COVID-19.

“Everyone that walks into this courtroom, everybody will know that they don’t have any symptoms,” said Judge Kouris.

Kouris said they have the green light from health officials and experts.

“They’ve all kind of blessed what we’ve explained,” he said. “It’s an issue of layers here. We can never make it 100 percent safe, but we can get close by layering several things.”

Officials said they will start off by limiting in-person contact to trial day.

The jury selection process went digital, with COVID jury surveys sent out to potential jurors beginning the second week of January.

“It have been three business days, and we have 2,100 people who have sent in their response,” said Heidi Anderson, IT director for the administrative office of the courts.

On trial day, everyone entering the courthouse will be required to take and pass a rapid COVID-19 test.

“Then they’re brought upstairs in clumps of fours so they’re not together,” said Judge Kouris.

Once inside the courtroom, one can expect to see social distancing, glass on the witness stand, an enhanced air filtration system, and jurors sitting eight feet apart.

The public can live stream the proceedings as in-person access will be limited.

“Our focus right now are the folks that are being held in jail that want their day in court,” said Kouris.

The pilot program kicks off Jan. 25 at the Third District Court, then on Feb. 10 in Duchesne, and eventually will be rolled out elsewhere.

If a defendant or attorney tests positive for COVID-19, that will throw the trial.

Contingency plans have been put in place with substitutes for any other staff member that might test positive. For example, a new judge would step in to replace a judge that gets the virus.

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