In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia courts all but shut down, hearing only emergency matters for many months. However, in recent weeks, courts have begun to re-open to address the backlog of cases that has resulted from the months-long shutdown. As courts open up, many Virginia criminal defense attorneys are concerned about the ability of a defendant to receive a fair trial given the challenges of conducting a trial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Holding a jury trial during the pandemic gives rise to several potentially serious problems, as it is difficult to ensure that a defendant’s constitutional rights are adequately protected. The following are among the concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic presents to those facing serious criminal charges:
Right to a fair jury – Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. Subsequent case law further requires that a jury is composed of a fair cross-section of society. Some have raised concerns that a large number of people will fear the health risks of serving on a jury during the COVID-19 pandemic. Conducting a jury without these people, many of which may be more liberal-leaning, could result in a jury with a more conservative slant, potentially depriving a defendant of their right to a fair and impartial jury.