Can New York Defendants Get a Fair Jury Trial in a Criminal Case During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on the lives of all Americans. It seems as though almost every aspect of life has changed, seemingly overnight. As New York Criminal Defense Lawyers we are very concerned about the impact on the New York criminal justice system. In the wake of the pandemic, New York courts all but shut down, hearing only emergency matters. This took a serious toll on the effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system. Indeed, jury trials have been delayed for months, and courts are getting overwhelmed as new cases continue to come in. Even since courts have started to reopen, concerns around the effective administration of justice remain—chief among these being the ability to get a fair jury trial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While all New Yorkers are hopeful that the worst of the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, New York is still struggling to return to a level of normalcy even as safety measures remain in place.  These safety measures can substantially interfere with a defendant’s due process rights and their ability to obtain a fair trial.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and “to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” and “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.” However, each of these rights may be seriously hampered by the restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, statistics have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the elderly as well as people of color. To decrease the risk of transmission, many of these high-risk individuals have been advised to stay home. Of course, a valid health concern is a legitimate reason not to attend jury duty. However, if large portions of these populations stay at home, this means that these groups will be underrepresented in New York criminal juries. This may deprive a defendant of their right of a jury that consists of a “fair cross-section” of the community.

Similarly, to the extent that a defense witness was uncomfortable attending court due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it may deprive a defendant of their ability to rely on the compulsory process.

Other concerns surround the ability of the New York justice system to conduct a fair trial in accordance with a defendant’s constitutional rights to confront the witnesses against him, and to a speedy and public trial. Those facing serious criminal charges should be sure to work with a dedicated criminal defense attorney who is prepared to address these issues.

Speak with a New York Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime in New York, or you are awaiting a jury trial, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have an extensive track record of successfully representing clients facing all types of serious crimes, including New York violent crimes such as assault, battery, and homicide. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today, call 877-377-8666.

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