In New York, there is a huge backlog of criminal cases. According to the New York Times:
In Federal District Court in Manhattan, architects and carpenters have been redesigning courtrooms, building jury boxes with additional space and inserting plexiglass dividers to keep jurors safer. Shields are being put in front of witness stands and at lecterns where lawyers argue.
Certain precautions that are being considered may raise legal issues. “You can’t put a mask on the witnesses in a criminal trial because the defendant has the right to see them,” Chief Judge Colleen McMahon said.
“Jury trials are way, way down the road,” she added.
Some jurists warn that a prolonged delay in resuming trials could violate the Constitution.
“If well past July and for months to come, it is still dangerous for 12 people to gather together in tight quarters to hear and determine civil and criminal cases, it is not easy to see how the constitutional right to a jury trial will be genuinely met,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in The New York Review of Books.
And grand juries are also presenting a problem, but not as much in the smaller offices:
The city’s two federal courts, in Manhattan and Brooklyn, have adapted more smoothly to the crisis. Under their auspices, grand jurors began meeting again recently outside the city, in White Plains and Central Islip. And in both courts, regular audio and video hearings have been held, with dial-in numbers for the public clearly posted on electronic dockets.
But obstacles remain, like how to bring in large numbers of prospective jurors for screening.
Take the capital case of the Uzbek man accused in a 2017 terrorist attack that killed eight people on a Manhattan bike path. More than 1,000 prospective jurors had come in to fill out jury-selection questionnaires, but later were dismissed after Judge Vernon S. Broderick postponed the trial indefinitely because of the pandemic. The process would have to be redone.
At a teleconference in April, a jury official explained that bringing in so many potential jurors might take three days “with things being normal.”
But, with social-distancing guidelines, she added, “I don’t know what the new normal would be.”