COVID-19 Presents Troubles in the Make Up of Juries

By Danae Snell

ALAMEDA – On top of everything blamed on the Coronavirus, it now appears COVID-19 has caused many defendants to postpone their trial dates because of fear of not receiving an impartial jury because recent health information suggests the pandemic has a much more serious consequence for racial and ethnic minorities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

And, this finding could cause different results in—jury participants, deliberations, and rulings in several different cases all across the United States because less minorities would be willing to risk their lives to participate in jury duty.

Judge Andrew Steckler from Alameda County Superior Court acknowledged this issue in his courtroom last Friday when Defendant Anthony Lewis chose to vacate his trial date with the hopes of having his trial in a different environment.

Defendant Lewis originally stood in favor of rushing into the trial until his Defense Attorney Laurie Mont stressed her concerns.

Defendant Lewis, held Coalinga State Hospital, read a letter on Zoom on his behalf to the courtroom, stating, “It has almost been 14 years dealing with SBP without a trial and my attorneys have done nothing but postpone this case over and over again…In October 2019 the Public Defender Office opted out declaring conflicts and that a new attorney had been appointed.”

Defendant Lewis utilized one of the variety of components offered to individuals being charged with a crime. He filed a writ of habeas corpus on December 27, 2019, but it was rejected on the basis that he had quality attorney representation.

Lewis requested the court to appoint him an independent attorney on his behalf to argue his writ of habeas corpus with deep concern for his life, stating, “due to the pandemic my life is in jeopardy. As of today, many people have died in this hospital and I do not want to be next.”

The defense then asked the judge to vacate the trial due to “the Coronavirus epidemic that caused a delay in taking depositions of my state experts and conducting other discoveries, and also we put Mr. Lewis’s life in danger if the trial were to go forward…Our request to vacate the trial is to allow Mr. Lewis’ rights to discovery and to live.”

Deputy District Attorney Warren Ko responded to this argument by “Asking the court to satisfy itself by ensuring that the defendant is personally asking for his trial not to go forward so his lawyer can pursue an alternate strategy. If the court is satisfied with that, then I don’t have anything further to say.”

When the judge asked the defendant his stance on the matter, he voiced “I don’t want to wait any more time or anything like that. I rather go ahead and get it done and over with.”

Which caused the judge to intervene and advise the defendant of his defense’s argument in her motion.

Judge Steckler informed him that, “she was concerned about a couple things, specifically related to the pandemic. One of those is I don’t know the current status, but with respect to the coronavirus pandemic and our local jail here, Santa Rita Jail.”

“Another thing is the make-up of the jury might be different based on the current pandemic and who actually shows up,” the judge added.

After understanding why his defense favored postponement, the defendant quickly requested to “Vacate it.”

Constructing an impartial jury is crucial in trials, especially in trial outcomes. An impartial jury “means that the jury does not have any prejudice towards you as a defendant and will render a verdict based on the evidence in the case.” However, this current pandemic decreases the chances of jury trials being impartial and diverse due to recent statistics.

Defendant Lewis will be back in the courtroom on Oct. 16 to schedule his trial date.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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