SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Courtrooms across KELOLAND are beginning the challenge of catching-up on a growing backlog of criminal cases that were put on hold because of the pandemic. The Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, plans to resume trials next month. But concerns about COVID-19 could be a drain on the jury pool.
The Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s office is about four months behind in prosecuting criminal cases.
“It’s going to be an interesting summer, I can tell you that. I think it’s going to take us a while to catch up, but I think we certainly will catch up,” Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Crystal Johnson said.
State’s attorney Crystal Johnson is concerned that seating a jury will become more difficult with potential jurors worried about the spread of COVID-19.
Because I think as we see on the news and the community, people are completely across the board on how they are taking this, whether they are taking it incredibly seriously, or they’re not taking it seriously,” Johnson said.
The court system is mailing out this questionnaire to potential jurors asking them if they’ve ever tested positive for the coronavirus and what kind of safety measures they’d like to see put in place during a trial.
But precautions like requiring everyone to wear a mask in the courtroom could make jury duty more challenging.
“One of the juror’s biggest jobs is judging the credibility of a witness and that’s looking at somebody as they talk to you and I think it’s going to be more difficult to judge the credibility when half their face is covered up,” Johnson said.
Johnson says prosecutors will try lower-level criminal cases to begin with to see how juries respond before moving onto major felonies.
“And so, we are trying to triage kind of what needs to be tried, while still keeping the ends of justice and the safety of the county in mind,” Johnson said.
Johnson says the age factor is another challenge of seating a jury during the pandemic. Many jurors tend to be retired people, who are at higher-risk of the coronavirus, thereby possibly eliminating them from the pool.
Trials in Lincoln County are scheduled to begin June 9th. Minnehaha County trials will resume the following week.