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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Issues New Order Regarding Court Operations, Including Twelve-Person Jury Trials
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today issued an updated order regarding the operation of Massachusetts state courts and courthouses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new order goes into effect on May 1, 2021 and will replace the existing order issued on February 24, 2021.
The new order allows for the resumption of twelve-person jury trials in Superior Court criminal and sexually dangerous person cases as part of Phase 3 of the plan for the gradual resumption of jury trials. The Phase 3 recommended by the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC) in its report of July 31, 2020 has been modified in some respects, but in general the new order authorizes the courts to conduct as many jury trials as possible in as many locations as possible, consistent with the recommended health and safety practices. To maximize the number of jury trials that can be conducted during Phase 3, certain cases that typically would be tried to juries of twelve will continue to be tried to juries of six (i.e., Superior and Housing Court civil cases), while others may continue to be tried to juries of six with the consent of the appropriate parties (i.e., Superior Court criminal and sexually dangerous person cases). In addition, certain jury trials will be subject to limitations on the number of peremptory challenges. The cases that will be tried during Phase 3, as well as the locations, are subject to the approval of the Chief Justice of the applicable Trial Court Department. Priority will continue to be given to conducting jury trials in cases where a party is in custody.
Phase 3 will continue until the SJC issues further direction regarding the resumption of jury trials. As throughout the pandemic, all plans and expectations may be adjusted at any time in the ongoing effort to balance the safety of everyone who enters a courthouse with the fundamental constitutional right to a trial by jury.
"We are ready to increase the number and locations of jury trials," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, "but our courts will need to follow recommended health and safety practices, including mask-wearing, frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and courtroom and courthouse occupancy limitations, for some time to come."
Otherwise, courts will continue to conduct business virtually and in-person and courthouses will continue to be physically open to the public. Judges will continue to schedule and conduct bench trials and other hearings, either virtually or in-person. Each Trial Court department will continue to post notices to the court system's COVID-19 webpage identifying how (virtually or in-person) it is addressing various categories of matters.
Clerks', registers', and recorder’s offices will continue to be physically open to the public, while still endeavoring to conduct business virtually as much as possible.