Connect with us

Local News

Jury trials resume in Louisiana after lengthy COVID-19 delay



NEW ORLEANS, La. — Jury trials are back on in Louisiana starting Thursday, after being halted for several months due to coronavirus-related concerns.

The move back to in-person jury trials for criminal cases came as the moratorium on them was set to expire at the end of March. Rather than extending it, the Louisiana Supreme Court announced that they would be allowing it to expire, and would bring jurors back to the courtroom.

There won’t be an immediate impact, with judges expected to meet after the Easter holiday to discuss how to move forward with safely bringing jurors back.

One of the major impacts of the pandemic was felt in Louisiana’s justice system. While some courtroom functions, including civil court hearings, could be held over Zoom or other online systems, the unique nature of criminal trials meant they needed to be put on hold until the coronavirus threat was addressed.

Judge Karen Herman, the chief justice of New Orleans’ criminal court system, celebrated the action.

“Despite our progress in providing online services, jury trials must still be held in person,” she said in a statement. “We have begun the process of articulating a plan for the safe return of jurors to our courthouse, working with other criminal justice agencies and healthcare professionals to create a safe and effective plan to welcome back jurors and members of the community.”

Because no jurors could sit, no criminal cases could be tried by a jury of the defendant’s peers. Anybody arrested and charged in criminal court during the pandemic has been forced to wait, along with all those arrested and awaiting trial from before the pandemic.

Newly-elected District Attorney Jason Williams is also planning to revisit many cases where convictions were secured by non-unanimous juries. Those convictions were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Many of those cases will either be retried or will have the defendant plead out.