On December 16, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended in-person jury trials until March 1, 2021, to curb the transmission of the coronavirus. This unprecedented step will have an enormous effect on everyone involved in the criminal justice system, particularly for defendants awaiting trial. Here’s what you need to know.
A severe backlog of cases
Even before the pandemic, cases involving jury trials were already significantly backlogged. With this suspension of in-person juries, this backlog is going to grow even more substantial. In Allen County, for example, officials estimate that their 12-month jury trial backlog will likely grow to 18-months due to the suspension.
If you’re a defendant expecting a jury trial, your wait is likely to become even longer. This consequence is hugely frustrating, particularly for those who are being held in custody until their trial. But even if you’ve been released on bail or your own recognizance, you’re also likely to be dismayed at this news.
Defendants have the right to a speedy trial. Both the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution guarantees this right. Indiana Criminal Rule Four defines a “speedy trial,” stating that, excepting emergencies, criminal defendants being held in custody must be brought to trial within six months while defendants must go to trial within one year. The suspension of in-person trials falls under the emergency exception provided under the rule.
Video Jury Trials Unlikely
Some people have raised the question of whether courts might permit court jury trials to proceed via video conference. This is unlikely. While some Indiana courts have conducted simple civil hearings via videoconference, a jury trial is a much more elaborate proceeding usually involving upwards of eighteen people. Although a defendant would be getting a speedy trial, the video format might not offer the same advantages as an in-person trial. For example, the defendant might not make as favorable an impression on video, key witnesses might not be able to appear, jurors might be less attentive, technological limitations may disrupt the process, and so forth.
What will happen after the suspension ends?
Going forward, courts will probably try to bring in-person jury trial cases as quickly as possible after March 1. They will likely prioritize those cases where the defendant has remained in jail during the pretrial period as opposed to those able to exercise their pretrial freedom.
If you have been arrested and have questions regarding the timing of your trial, call the qualified criminal defense lawyers of Razumich & Associates to learn how to best defend yourself and protect your rights. We are ready to fight for you. Contact us today.