Providence, R.I. (March 5, 2021) - Jury trials have resumed on a limited basis in Rhode Island's state courts. At this time, they are only being held in Providence County Superior Court. Further, no jury trial is scheduled without the express, written authorization of the Presiding Justice of the Superior Court where a constitutional, statutory, or otherwise highly critical need has been demonstrated.
Currently, jury trials that proceed are held in-person, rather than virtually. The Superior Court has updated its jury trial process, effective September 2020, in the interests of the health and safety of all jurors, court personnel, litigants, and court users.
The number of summonses issued has been increased in anticipation of a reduction of individuals available to serve. A criminal jury trial now requires a pool of 60-70 jurors, and a civil jury trial requires a pool of 40-50 jurors, unless the sitting judge requests otherwise. Prospective jurors have the responsibility of notifying the court of any COVID-19-related concerns, including if they are unavailable to serve due to having symptoms or are required to quarantine.
Health & Safety Protocols
In the courthouse, jurors are required to wear face masks. The court provides masks, but jurors are also free to wear their own. Gloves, which the court also provides, are not required except when using equipment in the juror lounge. In addition, hand sanitizer is readily available in all areas used by jurors. The court also has implemented detailed protocols for the transportation of jurors to the courthouse and for reporting to their assigned courtroom, which is either Courtroom 11 or 12 on the fifth floor.
Whereas the hours of operation for jury selection had previously been 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET, they have now been reduced to 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET. Jurors remain in Courtrooms 11 and 12 for jury selection. Plexiglass is used to divide witnesses and other individuals in the courtroom, including judges, attorneys, jurors, and opposing counsel. The facilities department has also been consulted regarding air flow and temperature in the courtrooms, and a deep cleaning takes place at the end of each day. Due to the volume of courtroom attendees at the jury selection phase, family members and media do not have access to the courtrooms, but audio access to the proceedings is available to the general public via YouTube.
As for the jury trial itself, hours have again been reduced from the previous 8:30 a.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET, and are now 9:00 a.m. ET to 1:00 p.m. ET. In anticipation of COVID-19 potentially impacting a juror's availability to continue to serve, two to three alternates are selected at the discretion of the presiding judge. Jurors sit in the same seat for every day of trial, and the plexiglass dividers are cleaned at the end of each day. Limited family members and media are allowed inside the courtroom, as determined by the trial judge. Deliberations are conducted behind closed doors in a manner that includes proper distancing and that is consistent with health and safety protocol requirements.
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