The Cook County Circuit Court will resume jury trials, with multiple precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, starting in late March, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said on Wednesday.
“The right to a trial by jury is a cornerstone of our democracy, and jury service is one of the most important things that you can do as a citizen,” Evans said in letters to prospective jurors, which are arriving along with jury summonses in mailboxes this week. “Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have established procedures to safeguard the health of all persons in the courthouses. Every reasonable precaution will be taken to protect the health and safety of the jurors, parties, witnesses, lawyers and court staff during jury selection and the trial to follow.”
The court suspended jury trials in March of 2020 due to the pandemic. The target dates for the first criminal jury trials of 2021 are March 22 at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse on 26th Street and March 29 at the Bridgeview Courthouse.
While most court procedures have been successfully conducted by videoconference and teleconference during the pandemic, the U.S. Constitution holds that those accused of crimes have the right to demand a trial by a jury. The Illinois Supreme Court determined that, though the pandemic continues to demand safety precautions, the rights of those seeking a jury trial need to be accommodated. The Circuit Court submitted a preliminary plan for resuming jury trials to the Illinois Supreme Court on January 15.
The Cook County Circuit Court has been working with health experts from the city and county to plan for jury trials that will ensure safety and proper distancing. Cook County Circuit Court also has studied best practices from other courts which have already conducted jury trials during the pandemic.
More than one courtroom will be used for each trial, to achieve proper distancing, with one courtroom for the trial itself, another for jury deliberations, and a third for a livestream broadcast of the trial for members of the public. Depending on the type of case and the size of the jury box, jurors may be seated in either the jury box or the spectator area of the trial courtroom;
Additionally, the following safety initiatives have been put in place for all prospective jurors coming to courthouses:
All persons entering court facilities must wear masks, answer health questions and submit to a temperature check. Nobody will be admitted to a courthouse with a fever;
- Once prospective jurors pass through security screening and enter the jury assembly room, they will be seated by a court staff member to achieve distancing required by public health guidelines;
- Gloves are not required, but those summoned for jury duty may bring disposable gloves if they wish. Latex gloves may be provided to prospective jurors at no cost, pending available quantities;
- Hand sanitizer (alcohol-based) will be available at no cost;
- Additional face masks will be available as needed at no cost;
- All spaces, including restrooms, jury assembly rooms, courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms, are cleaned daily;
Prospective jurors watch the juror orientation video before arriving for service on our court’s website at http://www.cookcountycourt.org/FOR-JURORS/Juror-Video. This website shows pictures of how court facilities are being arranged to accommodate jury trials safely.
Also, the age for deferment from jury service has been lowered from age 70 and older to age 65 and older.