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Jury trials resuming in Genesee County after six-month coronavirus delay

A jury will be selected Tuesday after the Chief Judge said they had talks with the Genesee County Health Department and Michigan Supreme Court. They made a number of changes to the courtroom.
Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 5:37 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (9/11/2020) - After 6 months, Genesee County will hold its first jury trial.

More than half of the men and women in jail right now are awaiting their day in court. But, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the ability to call in a jury to decide their fate.

A jury will be selected Tuesday after the Chief Judge said they had talks with the Genesee County Health Department and Michigan Supreme Court. They made a number of changes to the courtroom.

The first change -- jurors will be entering off of Beach Street. Once inside, they’ll be screened before going through the metal detector. Then, they’ll wait in a much larger room than usual for their number to be called, to accommodate social distancing. And of course, masks are required.

Judge Elizabeth Kelly will preside over the first criminal jury trial Tuesday.

It’ll take place in Circuit Court’s largest courtroom. The sneeze guard glass is already up and the seats where they will sit are marked with a number.

“I personally have sat in each one of the numbered jury seats that are behind us,” Judge Kelly said. “And, we’ve had people on the witness stand, just to speak so I could make sure I had sight, I had hearing. And, I also held one end of the tape measure to make sure each of the jurors were six feet apart from the next juror.”

Because they will be, she said jurors don’t have to wear their mask during the hearing.

The County has been summoning and deferring people since May, so Judge Kelly expects a large pool. But, she said some people may have been already turned away during their initial screening.

“If they do have a medical situation, if they do have small children that they have to homeschool and they cannot come in,” the Judge explained. “So we’ve tried to, ahead of time, address some of those concerns if they have a family member who they care for who’s at risk, things like that.”

Those chosen will each receive a PPE bag with hand sanitizer, extra masks and gloves and their notepad.

When they’re in recess and between witnesses, the extra staff on hand will disinfect touch points.

“I think everybody agrees this is, this is something none of us have seen before,” Chief Judge Duncan Beagle said.

He’s asking if you’ve been summoned to please show up so the defendant can have a fair trial.

“I can assure everybody in this community that’s called for jury duty, we’ve crossed our t’s, dotted out i’s and tried to consider everything so that they feel comfortable and above all else feel safe,” he said.

Judge Beagle added right now only one jury trial will happen at a time.

They’ll be taking notes throughout this first one and will address any issues as they come up.

Typically, a jury in a criminal case has two alternates. They’ve opted to have four, knowing more issues than usual could arise.

Copyright 2020 WJRT. All rights reserved.

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