The months-long global coronavirus pandemic has halted the normal course of life for millions of people in the United States and around the world. As states grapple with decisions on how to reopen local economies, state and federal courthouses in California are modifying their operating procedures to keep the wheels of justice moving.
Inside the Sacramento County Superior Courtroom, judges, attorneys and defendants are meeting regularly for hearings via Zoom, a teleconferencing app, in lieu of in-person court hearings. Each day, criminal defendants appear in one courtroom to have their cases heard by a judge who is often sitting in another room. Attorneys for both sides are in their own rooms, with all parties appearing via the Internet.
Right now, court proceedings are largely limited to arraignments and bench trials heard before a judge. But that’s a problem for potentially hundreds of criminal defendants who have demanded a trial by jury, something that is their constitutional right.
With no judges currently seating juries for the foreseeable future, it’s quite possible that some criminal defendants could be set free in the coming weeks.
“Individuals in jail are going to say, I’m not agreeing to this time exclusion, I want my day in court,” Mark Reichel told CBS13 News. “The courts are going to say, we can’t bring a jury in here, and [the courts are] going to entertain motions to dismiss the case.”
A local district attorney acknowledged to CBS13 that if juries can’t be seated in a timely manner, some criminal defendants would most likely be set free.