The Kentucky Supreme Court has cleared the way for jury trials and other court proceedings to resume. The Court issued its order on August 1, and the first circuit court trial was scheduled for Aug. 11, with criminal cases taking priority. While courts may begin to hold trials, the proceedings will look much different.
Protections put in place for trials
Circuit and district courts must follow guidance from the state’s highest court over reopening. Restrictions include:
- Following social distancing guidelines by benches marked with tape and Xs
- Jurors occupying both the traditional jury box and public seating area inside the courtroom
- Family and friends watching proceedings from another area on closed-circuit video
- Jurors do not handle evidence – instead they view pictures on a computer screen
- All jury deliberations take place inside the courtroom
In addition to these limits, circuit and district courts are encouraged to add additional restrictions when necessary. For example, Fayette Circuit Court sends potential jurors a COVID-19 questionnaire to determine whether they tested positive or contacted anyone with the virus.
High court clarifies who must wear masks
Initially, the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered all parties, except the judge and witnesses, to wear masks in court. However, the Court amended that order saying judges have the discretion to allow attorneys or other parties to temporarily remove facial coverings, when necessary.
The Court says the change was in response to questions from several judges who were concerned about muffled testimony. The Supreme Court did stipulate that proper social distancing must be maintained while masks are removed.
Potential effects from the new guidelines
The Kentucky Supreme Court order is an attempt to weigh public safety concerns over the virus with the extreme backlog of cases and defendants’ and plaintiffs’ rights to a jury trial.