On June 30, 2020, Chief Judge Mark S. Davis issued General Order 2020-19, announcing that the resumption of criminal jury trials in the Eastern District of Virginia will be delayed until September 14, 2020. This most recent General Order does not further address the Court’s previous pronouncement that civil jury trials are postponed indefinitely.
In General Order 2020-16, issued in late May, the Court had laid out an advance timeline for the next steps in the phased expansion of Court operations in the District. In that Order, the Court anticipated that criminal jury trials would not resume before July 7, 2020, at the earliest. In General Order 2020-16, the Court noted that it would monitor “emerging case statistics and the response of local and statewide authorities” as a basis for a later decision as to whether July 7 remained an appropriate date to start to bring in jurors for criminal cases.
In General Order 2020-19—available on the Court’s website—Chief Judge Davis observed the extent to which new case counts and deaths in Virginia trended downward in early June but have begun to rise. Chief Judge Davis also noted that, given the mobility of our country’s population, and the fact that federal criminal jury trials often involve witnesses from out-of-state, the resurgence of COVID-19 in a significant number of states during the past ten days is of great concern.
For these reasons, the Court has decided not to resume criminal jury trials until at least September 14, 2020. Much of General Order 2020-19 discusses the many steps that the Court is taking to ensure that jurors will be willing to sit in a closed room with a group of strangers for a prolonged period of time, and will be willing to devote themselves to doing so in a manner that ensures a fair trial for defendants. The Court is also focused on ensuring that the jurors who decide cases in the District continue to represent a fair cross-section of the population of the District, and that the composition of juries is not skewed in some manner by the unwillingness of some portion of the population to sit for jury service. The Court is making a number of changes to the packet that potential jurors receive and the manner in which the Court communicates with them, and changes to the physical layout of the courthouse, but none of those changes are deemed sufficient to protect jurors’ health and safety yet given the current COVID-19 statistics here in Virginia and elsewhere in the country.
David Deitch leads the White Collar Defense and Corporate Compliance practice at Berenzweig Leonard. David is an experienced white collar trial lawyer who has tried more than 100 jury trials to verdict in federal and state courts around the nation. He can be reached at [email protected]