First Jury Trial in Michigan Since Onset of COVID-19 is a Success

The first criminal trial with a jury took place this past Wednesday at the 57th Circuit Court; this is believed to be the first criminal jury trial held in the state of Michigan since the the Coronavirus pandemic began shutting businesses down almost four months ago.

No jury trials have been allowed in Michigan during the pandemic. The trial on Wednesday required extensive measures to ensure the safety of both staff and jurors. Screening, temperature checks, masks, and other protective equipment allowed the trial to take place with a live jury. Courthouse staff and STT Security Services worked diligently to conduct and document screening procedures and results. The Emmet County Administrator, Michael Reaves, stated, “I truly appreciate each of you and your departments efforts in making this event happen… Judge Johnson is very happy with the amount of collaboration that went into making this happen.”

The following excerpts are taken from the official press release for the trial:

Those citizens summoned for jury duty were notified in advance that if they would be excused and deferred for service at a later date if they were vulnerable or high-risk for COVID-19, or living with or caring for such a person.

Special precautions were taken to assure the safety of the citizens called to serve once they arrived at the Courthouse. Country staff was stationed outside the Courthouse entrance to screen the prospective jurors for an abnormally high temperature or other symptoms of COVID-19. Thankfully, none of the jurors were found to have such symptoms.

Masks were required to be worn by all the participants, and hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes were readily available throughout the courthouse. The Circuit Courtroom was marked with numbered searing locations all spaced at least six feet apart. The Auxillary Courtroom could see and hear the proceedings in the Circuit Courtroom.

The trial was completed in just one day, with the jury finding the Defendant guilty of both crimes charged.

Judge Johnson commended the staff from the Emmet County Clerk’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, the Information Technology Department, the County Security staff, Court staff, and County Administration for the excellent support provided to conduct the trial safely and effectively.

“This was truly a team effort with great cooperation between Court staff and other County staff… It is important to the proper functioning of our justice system that we are able to conduct jury trials. It is also essential that the jury trials are conducted in a way that does not expose citizen jurors to unreasonable health risks. We achieved both these objectives today.” – Judge Charles W. Johnson