The Supreme Court has provided additional guidance on the first new jury trials to resume since the mid-March suspension of trials resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As detailed in the Court’s July 22, 2020 Order and appended Plan for Resuming Jury Trials, new jury trials will be conducted in a hybrid format involving primarily virtual selection followed by socially distanced in-person trials.
The Court’s attached September 17, 2020 Order emphasizes that the resumption of jury trials is necessary to protect the rights of criminal defendants, including more than 2,500 indicted defendants who are detained awaiting trial, and for litigants in more than 9,000 ready civil cases. As with all aspects of COVID-19 court operations, the New Jersey courts will resume hybrid jury trials in a manner that supports the health and safety of all court users.
The Court’s September 17, 2020 Order clarifies and supplements the provisions of the Court’s July 22, 2020 Order as follows:
- Announcing the schedule for the first five jury selections and trials, which will proceed in Bergen, Atlantic, Cumberland, Mercer, and Passaic Counties;
- Reinforcing the prioritization of criminal matters involving detained defendants while providing that the Chief Justice in individual matters may authorize an initial trial not involving a detained defendant, if, for example, multiple cases identified for trial that involve detained defendants are resolved by plea shortly before the trial date, and no other detained cases can practically be prepared and scheduled;
- Permitting as an additional option fully virtual jury selection (rather than a hybrid process involving both virtual and in-person phases), with the consent of the attorneys and approval of the trial judge;
- Confirming that where jury selection is conducted in a hybrid format, judges may permit attorneys to ask limited follow-up questions during the final in-person phase of selection;
- Providing that individual juror responses to the supplemental COVID-19 questionnaire will be provided to attorneys upon request on the condition that those questionnaires must be kept confidential; and
- Clarifying that based on the significant public interest in the resumption of jury trials, the first several jury trials will be livestreamed, while public access going forward may be provided in other ways, including by allowing observers to view proceedings from within the courtroom with social distancing, from another court location with a video feed, or remotely by individual invitation to the Zoom proceeding (which would not be livestreamed).
Questions should be directed to the Office of the Administrative Director at (609) 376-3000.
/s/ Hon. Glenn A. Grant, J.A.D.
Acting Administrative Director of the Courts
Dated: September 17, 2020