The Washington Supreme Court has authorized courts to resume jury trials as of July 8th. We would like to take this time to reach out to potential future jurors to help alleviate any potential fears and update the community on the steps being taken to protect the health of all persons involved.
First, we do not have any trials scheduled before August, so if you have been summonsed for July, you are excused and need not report to the court.
Second, for anyone who may be at a higher health risk, feels uncomfortable serving, or is exhibiting symptoms, please contact the court and you will be granted a deferral to a time later in the year or early next year. However, it is crucial that we have this information as early as possible to assure we have enough potential jurors to be able to select a jury.
While we are facing additional challenges with the pandemic in assuring that everyone stays healthy and safe it is important to remember that jury trials are a cornerstone of the justice system, critical to fair hearings, and a key constitutional guarantee for all.Article Three of the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal trial by jury, and the Sixth Amendment further clarifies that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”
Article One Section 21 of the Washington state constitution: “The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”
Jurors from a broad spectrum of the community are critical to just outcomes and trust in the justice process.
Our court has and will continue to take exhaustive steps to protect the health and safety of jurors and to follow the directions of state, local, and national health officials. These steps include new jury screening questions to identify vulnerable persons, availability of N95 and KN95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), installation of Plexiglas inside court spaces, social distancing to include jurors meeting in much larger spaces or in separate rooms, thorough sanitation and disinfecting of all public spaces on a regular basis, and holding parts of the jury selection and/or trial via video.
We will take every possible precaution but we cannot, unfortunately, guarantee that no virus transmission could take place during conduct of a trial.
Jury service will look a bit different going forward, with new processes included to maintain safety, such as smaller groups meeting in larger spaces, use of protective equipment, fewer trials being conducted simultaneously, and much more.
Please be patient — new processes and new technologies will take some adjustment and refining as they are implemented, and the processes may be updated as information becomes available and the trajectory of the pandemic progresses.
Court staff will be available to answer your questions and address your concerns at any time.
Jurors are critical to society as the judicial branch works to protect access to courts and fair hearings, and maintain the rule of law. Jury service is a vitally important civic duty.
The State Legislature has set by statute that:
A person shall be competent to serve as a juror in the state of Washington unless that person:
(1) Is less than eighteen years of age;
(2) Is not a citizen of the United States;
(3) Is not a resident of the county in which he or she has been summoned to serve;
(4) Is not able to communicate in the English language; or
(5) Has been convicted of a felony and has not had his or her civil rights restored.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Mark O. Downing