Jury trials in some Florida courts could return this summer after being put on hold since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. They just won’t happen in-person.
Florida’s Chief Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady issued an order Thursday night for the court system’s COVID-19 workgroup to develop a system for cases to be tried remotely. The pilot program will be limited to civil jury trials, according to the order. Criminal trials will remain on hold “because of the complex constitutional and due process issues,” Canady wrote.
Remote trials will begin in five of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. The court system has not said which circuits will participate. The circuits relevant to the Tampa Bay area are the sixth, which contains Pinellas and Pasco counties; the thirteenth, which contains Hillsborough County; and the fifth, which contains Hernando County in addition to Citrus, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
Canady’s order didn’t specify a date for remote trials to begin, but it said circuits will have to report back on the program’s success by the end of July. Jury trials across Florida have been stopped since March 13.
In a separate order, Canady also fleshed out some rules for courts to move to “Phase 2” of the court system’s reopening plan, which will allow limited in-person contact. For individual courts to move to that phase, the communities around them will have to show two weeks of “improvements in (COVID-19) case reporting” and will need “adequate testing programs.” No courts have reached that phase yet.
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