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No state jury trials until January 11, 2021

Under the new SJC standing order there will be no jury trials in the state until January 11, 2021.

Depending on the upcoming weeks this time line can be moved even further.

The courts are very concerned about a post Thanksgiving surge of COVID-19 cases. With people traveling for the holidays and hanging out in close proximity the courts are responding to what they believe is a real threat. As a result, the court has decided to continue to reduce the amount of people going to court.

Each court is operating in a different way. However, most courts are reserving in person hearings to defendants held in jail and emergency orders such as restraining orders. The remaining court hearings are being conducted by telephone or via zoom.

Courts are most concerned about jury trials in the COVID era. The problem is that jury trials require a lot of people to be in the court room together. At minimum, during jury trials you have a judge, a clerk, court officers, the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the defendant. In addition there can be several witnesses that are called to testify and jurors that need to hear the case.

The federal court has conducted several jury trials in the last few months, however, the federal court has a lot more resources and space than state court. Unlike the federal courts, the state courts are usually older building with tighter spaces making social distancing difficult. The older court houses also have old HVAC systems that do not allow for great air circulation.

As a result, it is not a surprise that Massachusetts state courts have pushed off holding jury trials until January. The last jury trials that were conducted in the state was back in March, so the backlog of cases is already overwhelming. Even with the great backlog, the state may not see jury trials resume until a vaccine is widely available.

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