New Jersey

NJ Courts Take Steps Toward Allowing Jury Trials Again

Thousands of people are in jail and have not had a trial, and thousands more are awaiting civil trials.

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Courts in New Jersey will start holding jury trials again in September, with officials noting that despite the coronavirus pandemic raging on, they could no longer ignore a backlog of unresolved cases.

There are more than 4,700 people in county jails before trial, and more than 2,000 of them have not been indicted, Acting Administrative Director of the Courts Glenn Grant said.

Many thousands more are awaiting for civil trials to resume.

The plan is to start first in courts in Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

To avoid a large gathering of prospective jurors in courthouse, the courts will do initial jury selections remotely, with the judge and attorneys observing virtually, according to a news release. Jurors in the next phase will come to the courthouse in person, and if selected, will hear evidence in person in court.

Masks are required in the courthouses and through trials, and crowds will be spread out to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The courts had faced criticism in March, as news of the virus was spreading in the U.S. but jury selections were still packing the rows of seats in the courtrooms. On March 12, the state Supreme Court suspended new jury selections and new jury trials.

Then the courts shifted to remote for 4 months.

Court leaders say the measures in place for reopening, including keeping social distance, will limit the number of trials to one to three per courthouse.

But Grant said it was important to begin hearing cases again.

"We do not have the option to say the courts can shut down until such time as there’s herd immunity or that we come up with a vaccine to make it possible," Grant said. "We would love for that day to happen...but the critical work of the court needs to continue."

You can read the full state Supreme Court order on resuming trials here.

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