Under the Shadow of COVID-19, the Right to a Speedy Trial Has Suffered FurtherUnder the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, every criminal defendant has the right to receive a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. The same right is also guaranteed in many state constitutions and state laws.

In recent years, the right to a speedy trial has fallen to the wayside, as our nation’s courts suffer serious backlogs. Defendants are often left waiting for weeks and months simply to obtain a court date. Some of these men and women are stuck in jails and prisons because they cannot make bail. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this crisis of justice: courthouses shut down for months, and jails and prisons because incubators for a deadly virus.

Now, after several months of closures, the court systems in many states are gradually gearing up again through the introduction of remote technologies such as Zoom to hold hearings, pleas, and sentencings. However, there still is significant difficulty with efforts to resurrect the jury trial, a court proceeding that only works properly in person.

Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges across the nation are looking for ways to revamp the jury trial in the COVID-19 era, hoping to start getting a handle on the backlog of cases accumulating in numerous jurisdictions. Social distancing, using larger venues than normal (such as high school gyms), requiring facemasks in the courtroom, and other measures are being implemented in some localities. However, many balk at the use of facemasks for defendants, the accuser, and witnesses. Juries need to see facial expressions and responses to various happenings within a trial in order to evaluate and make judgments. Facemasks shield those responses – yet asking anyone to risk his or her life by not wearing a mask is morally and ethically wrong.

Other considerations being made in the effort to restart jury trials while the coronavirus is still a public health threat include the potential use of HEPA air filters in courtrooms to remove contaminants and whether to include questions about personal health on juror questionnaires.

It is important to understand that defendants awaiting trial still have the status of “innocent until proven guilty.” The long delays they endure have the potential to destroy them financially and personally. These delays can negatively impact their relationships with loved ones and lead to health problems.

The right to a speedy trial is supposed to be guaranteed by our Constitution. The pandemic has reminded us just how much work there is to be done when it comes to protecting and enforcing the justice system.

At Carey Law Office, experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph Carey is committed to helping you fight whatever criminal charge you are facing. He and his team are well-equipped to counter the prosecution’s case in pursuit of an outcome in your favor. To arrange a consultation about your case in our Bowie or Crofton office, call us today at 301.464.2500 or reach us through our contact form.