TAMPA, Fla. — Jury trials are set to resume for the first time in six months on Monday in Hillsborough County. This comes after months of in-person closures because of COVID-19 concerns.
The state attorney's office said victims and their families have been waiting for justice for nearly half a year to tell the judge how a crime impacted their lives, and to hear a verdict.
"We've been missing the final piece of the puzzle, which are jury trials," said Andrew Warren, Hillsborough County State Attorney. "It makes it harder for us to finish the cases to hold defendants accountable. But the most important thing, it's delaying justice for victims and their families. That's why we're excited and cautiously optimistic."
However, the backlog of cases is still immense, according to Warren. In the six months that jury trials have been stopped, Warren's office would normally handle more than 180 trials.
Prospective jurors can expect several new safety measures in place to try and reduce exposure to COVID-19, including temperature checks, masks and social distancing required everywhere. The courts have set up overflow seating for serving juries as they can’t even fit all the jurors in the jury box together because of new requirements to spread out.
"It's a way that we can make sure that we are having trials while keeping every single member of our community healthy and protected when they come into the courthouse complex," Warren said.
Additionally, instead of one large jury pool, jurors will arrive in much smaller groups with staggered times, according to the state attorney's office. The jury auditorium will also be cleaned top-to-bottom every time a group of jurors leaves.
Those in court can also expect to see other social distancing measures in place as well, including a new requirement for attorneys to wear special headphones to have a private conversation with the judge, as opposed to approaching the bench. This way, they can stay distanced and still have that private conversation.