Our own attorney T. Jarrett Bouchette was quoted in a Sun News article that ran the morning of July 29th, 2020 pertaining to the resuming of jury trials in South Carolina.
Horry County and Aiken County were chosen to host the first jury trial since the courthouse closed down due to the pandemic. Jury trials are set to resume near the middle of this August according to the recent South Carolina Supreme Court announcement.
Several types of hearings that do not require a jury have still been held for the last couple of months, but defendants appear via video with limits to the number of people allowed in the courtroom, with all wearing a mask.
Jimmy Richardson, the solicitor for the 15th Judicial District which covers Horry County, remarked about the changes made in order to keep jurors safe such as: enacting social distancing, providing a questionnaire to potential jurors ensuring they are not a high-risk individual, people visiting the courthouse will be split into groups, and potential jurors and witnesses will also have to fill out forms to say they do not have any symptoms. Lawyers will only be able to hold up the evidence before a jury, instead of allowing the jury to physically hold any of the bagged items for their own closer inspection.
The SC Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers noted that COVID-19 might prevent a cross-section of the community from volunteering to serve on a panel and they expressed some concerns. Defense attorney Bouchette described it as a balancing act with making sure defendants have a speedy trial, but also that everybody in the room is kept safe.
“We can’t sacrifice a fair trial by just putting measures in place that sacrifice that defendant’s ability to have a fair day in court,” said Jarrett Bouchette, who is also a board member representing the 15th Judicial Circuit. “If jury members are wearing masks, it prevents lawyers from gauging their reactions, and defense attorneys won’t be able to approach a witness during cross-examination. Both can impact a person’s fair trial. We’d also want to make sure the accused are not being prejudiced by juries that feel rushed to leave for safety concerns or distracted during the trial.”
Another article posted online by NPR, shows that the demand surges for see-through face masks because most regular masks do come with significant social downsides as they hide smiles and obscure facial expressions. Regular masks can be an impediment for the 10 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, and an obstacle for child care workers and teachers – and as Attorney Bouchette has pointed out – jurors and courtroom personnel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared face coverings to be a”critical tool” in stopping the surge in COVID-19 cases amid the growing scientific evidence that they can significantly reduce viral spread, masks are not going away anytime soon.
During this often stressful and uncertain period of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at The Floyd Law Firm want our clients to know that we are dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of our clients and staff. We encourage everyone to work together and towards remaining healthy moving forward.