NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended all jury trials starting Monday until January 31, 2021 in a new order.
COVID-19 concerns for how jury trials would be conducted safely were the reason behind yet another suspension since March, but prosecutors say just because the pandemic has slowed down the state doesn’t mean crime has decreased.
“The justice system hasn’t stopped. Criminal behavior hasn’t stopped,” Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Tammy Meade said.
Meade said even once the greenlight is given by the supreme court, it will take her team weeks to prepare cases.
“We have to subpoena jurors in; we have to get cases ready. We have to start trying the cases that should’ve been heard in 2020,” Meade said.
Meade said her case load goes up with each month jury trials are paused.
COVID-19 health protocols are causing problems with jurors and defense attorneys. Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn said things like masks and social distancing are not ideal ways to adapt in crucial situations like trials.
“Obviously facial expressions are one of the things that humans look at in trying to assess credibility, and that’s difficult to do when 60 percent of your face is covered,” Fishburn said.
Judge Steve Dozier fears people may not feel comfortable participating on a jury or being sequestered for deliberations for hours at a time.
“Personally, they may not say anything, but within themselves ‘hey I want to get out of here, and the quicker the better.’ And having short deliberations which isn’t fair to anybody,” Dozier said.
Meade estimates it will be spring before jury trials are conducted in Davidson County. Fishburn said even when they are allowed, only three courtrooms will be able to hold trials at a time due to social distancing guidelines.