Jury trials in most North Alabama counties still weeks away

Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 11:42 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Jury trials in North Alabama have the okay to return on Monday, Sept. 14. But, just because counties can restart jury trials, doesn’t mean they are.

WAFF 48 reached out to every North Alabama county and only two counties are restarting jury trials on Sept. 14, Morgan and Cullman counties.

Most counties are looking toward a date in October, including Madison County. Oct. 19 is the chosen date for jury trials to restart there.

Attorney Mark McDaniel said when trials do restart, jury selection is going to look very different. McDaniel said before the pandemic you usually would see 100 to 200 people come to the Madison County Courthouse on a Monday morning for jury selection, now that obviously can’t happen.

McDaniel said it depends on the county, but some are now doing the process over Zoom or going to a much larger venue where they can social distance.

This new way of picking a jury is also going to make things a lot slower. McDaniel said in the past it may have taken a few days to get together a jury, now it could take a week or two.

When jury trials do start back up in Madison and other counties, the trials will look different with several new safety precautions in place.

With masks, plexiglass and social distancing all apart of these cases, McDaniel said it will change the dynamic of the courtroom.

But, the most important thing here is making sure everyone who comes in the courtroom will be safe, and that is what these changes are focused on.

When trials do restart, McDaniel said a majority of counties will be seeing cases in a certain order. First, will be criminal cases involving people in jail, then criminal cases without people in jail and then civil cases.

This means people have been waiting for months to get their case resolved are going to have to keep on waiting.

“The cases where people are the most frustrated are probably in the civil cases, if they’ve had cases pending for a long time and it can be a car wreck case, it can be a breach of contract case, where they need a jury trial to resolve the issue," McDaniel said.

Since the pandemic started and jury trials were put on pause, criminal and civil cases that need a jury trials have been stacking up, adding onto a backlog that was already there in many counties.

In Madison County, the backlog from COVID-19 is just compounding another issue, according to McDaniel, which is a shortage of judges in the county.

“The Court Administrator’s Office knows we need more judges here and eventually we’ll get them, but we don’t right now so you take the fact that we don’t have enough judges and you put on top of that COVID-19 and the backlog you’ve got because of that and you’ve got a problem," he said.

McDaniel said the judges in Madison County are working very hard to do what they can but they can only do so much.

When jury trials will resume in North Alabama:

Colbert County- Oct. 15

Cullman County- Sept. 14

Dekalb County- Oct. 5

Franklin County- Haven’t named a date

Lauderdale County- Nov.

Lawrence County- Waiting on response

Limestone County- Oct. 19

Madison County- Oct. 19

Marshall County- Oct. 13

Morgan County- Sept. 14

Jackson County- Oct. 5

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