JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in months, hundreds of people will show up at the Duval County Courthouse this week for jury duty.
The courthouse is reopening after trials were suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several changes are being made to protect staff, attorneys, jurors and guests of the courthouse from the spread of the coronavirus.
Normally, 300 to 400 potential jurors would be summoned to appear Monday and then be separated into groups for trials. That will not happen now. Instead, Chief Judge Mark Mahon said, smaller groups of potential jurors have been summoned to appear during a period of three days.
“Typically, of course, during a juror selection, you would have them in the box and they would be questioned individually in that setting. We are not going to do that anymore. We are going to spread out the jurors in the area that would be particularly reserved for the audience. We are going to use our ceremonial courtrooms, which are larger. We can sit about 30 people of potential jurors without any real difficulty,” explained Mahon.
Mahon said it is important to restart criminal trials since, for months, inmates at the Duval County jail charged with serious crimes have not been able to have their day in court. But it will not happen all at once.
“It’s a little bit of a more complicated process. First, you have to find a trial that’s simple, that can be tried within a limited amount of time. We’re looking at trials where the defendant is in jail or out of custody -- that is at the jail or out on bond or release -- and trials that have a limited number of witnesses, so that way, we are not bringing in a number of witnesses that we will have to disinfect for PPE (personal protective equipment) and those types of things,” he said.
As a result, Mahon said trials that are expected to be shorter -- one day -- will be tried first.
Once inside a courtroom, jurors will be seated according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. They will not sit in the same jury box as usual. Mahon said all jurors, attorneys and witnesses will be required to wear masks at all times. Defendants being held at the Duval County jail will be quarantined before being allowed inside the courtroom.
“We have identified the defendants that might be tried in cases that might be up and coming. The (Jacksonville) Sheriff’s Office is placing those individuals into quarantine a week before coming into the courthouse,” explained Mahon.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, live with someone who has one or have a financial hardship tied to the pandemic and do not feel comfortable serving as a juror, you need to contact the Duval County Clerk of Courts Office to request permission to be excused.
You cannot just refuse to show up. Jury duty is a necessary civic duty and is required by law.