Dallas County DA says jury trials highly unlikely for rest of 2020

Jury trials in Dallas County are another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Friday there may not be a trial by a jury of one's peers for the rest of the year.

“In Dallas County, I doubt it,” Creuzot said.

There has not been a jury trial in Dallas County since March. Across the state there have been only a couple of handfuls of jury trials since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think we're all apprehensive back into the courtroom,” Creuzot said.

Many people fill a courtroom for a jury trial – lawyers, clerks, bailiffs, the defendant and the citizens who make up the jury.

“The first concern is the safety of the people involved,” said Judge Tammy Kemp. “Generally a large majority of our jurors are typically seniors. I don’t know that they are going to feel safe and want to be in confined areas with complete strangers.”

Some cases are proceeding, including hearings and plea bargains and some trials where the judge decides the defendants’ fate.

Those courtrooms have been outfitted with barriers in places for proceedings in front of the judge. All people entering the courthouse are supposed to be in face masks or be given one by security.

“We have asked that we have persons taking the temperature of people who enter the courthouse that has yet to be done,” Kemp said.

What took place this week in Austin was a criminal trial over zoom, the first of its kind.

“The Zoom trial that we had has brought up a number of issues. It’s going to be a huge issue for appeals,” said defense attorney Rebekah Perlstein, who wasn’t a fan of the technology being used.

“My biggest concern is we don’t get the face to face and in-person perspective that we have with the jurors that we have in the courtroom,” Perlstein said.

Mike Howard, adjunct professor at UNT Dallas Law School, questions whether a digital trial is constitutional.

“I don’t think pushing forward a virtual trial is ever going to be workable. I don’t think it’s legally workable and I don’t think it’s practically workable,” Howard said. “I think legally, confrontation - being able to confront one's accuser- and the right to a fair trial, we're just not going to get there on a virtual trial.”

The district attorney plans to pull together defense lawyers and judges to try to find a way back into the courtroom, safely.

“Starting a process of making this a safe environment, as safe as can be, so we can get cases resolved,” Creuzot said.

Some of those in line for trial are on bond with electronic monitors at home, while others sit in jail.