Jury trials resume throughout southwest Virginia amid pandemic

Coronavirus

CHATHAM, Va. (WFXR) — Pittsylvania County Circuit Court resumed jury trials on Tuesday, marking the first time the court has sat a jury since the pandemic began.

The reopening plan includes everything from requiring all jurors to wear masks or be dismissed to specifying how juror’s meals will be provided.

Pittsylvania County spokesperson Caleb Ayers said there are about 36 cases that could go to jury trial as soon as this week.

“There aren’t as many as there could be,” he said, adding that between 15 and 20 defendants decided not to wait for a jury trial and agreed to a bench trial instead.

“There definitely were people that waived their right to a jury trial because of what was going on and because of the delays, and there was a lot of uncertainly as to when those were going to be able to happen again.”

The plan approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia includes measures like keeping the heating system fan running 24/7 and spacing everyone apart.

“They’re not going to sit on what you think of the traditional jury bench, you know, where they’re all packed in there together. So that’s a big part of it is sort of spacing them out.”

Mandatory masking is also part of the plan.

“Everyone will be required to wear a mask while they’re in there.”

The new protocols could make it harder to find enough people comfortable to sit on a jury.

“The clerk is going to be very understanding at this point,” said Ayers. “If someone is either worried that they have been infected or worried about getting infected themselves, obviously these are very unique times, so there’s going to be a lot of leeway.”

WFXR News reached out to other courts in the area that have been approved to resume jury trials. Jury trials in Roanoke and Alleghany counties have already re-started.

Salem is set to begin on Wednesday, Dec. 16, while Wythe County is scheduled begin on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

Danville has been approved, but the first trial is not yet scheduled.

Meanwhile, Roanoke City did not return WFXR’s request for information.

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