Blue Earth County reimplements jury trials, piloting juror selection

Blue Earth County is now among six counties approved by the Minnesota Judicial Council to begin criminal jury trial pilots.
Published: Jun. 16, 2020 at 7:46 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — Blue Earth County is now among six counties approved by the Minnesota Judicial Council to begin criminal jury trial pilots.

The county will soon summon potential jurors once again and begin holding trials by jury as many cases have been furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blue Earth County has made some changes to its jury selection process by implementing health safety measures.

Trial procedures remain practically the same - save for following social distancing guidelines - but the goal is to once again honor constitutional rights and a fair trial by jury.

“Preliminary returns from a couple of trials they’ve done in Hennepin and Ramsey County have been favorable, said Assistant Chief Judge Gregory Anderson of the Fifth Judicial District. "So I’m hoping we can start ramping up and kind of dig into the mountain cases that’s piled up. I just looked this morning and I had 17 speedy trial demands I’ve not been able to honor. Most of those people are sitting in jail and so it’s very important that we begin to honor their constitutional rights as well as be safe when we bring in the public to help with that process.”

The number of jurors called into the courtroom for a case is smaller as they’re alternated to ensure health safety but the overall number of jurors depending on the case remains the same.

Jury deliberations during a case will also now take place in the jury assembly room with a bailiff at each door.

“They’ll be called into the courtroom in smaller groups than usual," said Anderson. "But we’ve worked on this and we’re still engaging in the trial procedural matters and some of those will differ depending on the kind of trial.”

Health safety measures are also taken into consideration in the jury selection process and concerns for an individual’s safety while gathering in a group are also addressed as the elimination process ensues.

“I think we’ll just have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis for the individuals who only express a concern," said Anderson. "What happens to jurors who fail to appear, in normal times, is they get summoned another day to come and talk to me. I don’t know that we’ll do that if it’s a reasonable fear or certainly if they have preexisting medical conditions that make it more dangerous for them.”

Blue Earth County’s plan is still a piloted program as the state’s judicial system examines how to safely conduct these trials.

“I’m really hopeful that as we work through this as a society and as a judicial system that what our experience will be helpful to other counties as they move forward," said Anderson.

Advance messaging for jurors is provided on the Fifth District’s public website.

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