The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of life as we know it, including the legal industry. The pace of in-person jury trials in state and federal courts dropped off sharply in 2020 after the United Sates’ declaration on March 13, 2020, that the coronavirus pandemic had become a national emergency. Many courts that opted to proceed with limited trials have added safety measures that have kept staff, attorneys and litigants healthy, but some courts, even with protocols in place, have had employees and others get sick with the coronavirus and even die.
According to Law360, as vaccinations start to roll out in masses a year later, many attorneys are eager to get back to the courthouse and are confident that proceedings with proper safeguards can serve as a model for other courts. But others fear that rushing to resume in-person trials could put people at risk.
The Slowdown of In-person Trials in 2020
Many courts sought to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure over the past year by canceling in-person jury trials. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there were 440 jury trials that got underway in the federal courts between April 1 and Dec. 31, compared to 2,468 in the same nine-month period in 2019 — an 82% decline.
Although similar data is not available for state courts, Law360 reports that the pandemic halted most trials from going forward in many states, especially New York. Of the trials that did proceed, several ran into problems keeping the coronavirus outside courthouse doors.
Nevertheless, at this point in the pandemic, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. As more of the population continues to get vaccinated and with safety protocols, such as social distancing, temperature checks and use of masks continuing to remain intact, attorneys may see more cases going to trial in 2021. Although jury trials may not be going forward at the same rate as before, courts will be opening their doors more and more as COVID rates continue to decline.
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