Starting next month, grand juries will be allowed to reconvene, but only with the facial coverings that have become an increasingly common sight during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kentucky Supreme Court, in continuing its phased reopening of judicial centers, issued an order Tuesday that allows grand jury panels to meet beginning June 1.
The Supreme Court’s order requires that grand jury proceedings be “conducted in a large ventilated space,” with all grand jury members required to wear facial coverings while inside the court facility.
If the area in a judicial center that is typically reserved for a grand jury is not large enough, then the proceedings will move to a courtroom, which under state orders may not exceed 33 percent capacity.
“Right now, we’re working out the details,” Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said. “I’ve met with our circuit judges and we are putting a protocol in place for grand juries to resume in Warren County on June 3.”
The Supreme Court’s order allows grand jury proceedings to be conducted remotely by using either phone or videoconferencing technology.
In Warren County, the grand jury typically meets in a room within Cohron’s office, though Cohron said the Supreme Court order will require a relocation.
For grand jury members meeting in person in a courtroom, the presiding judge will be responsible for ensuring that the area designated for the hearings is marked so people can maintain 6 feet of social distancing between one another.
The order also addresses the issue of jury trials, mandating that they remain postponed and rescheduled for no earlier than Aug. 1.
Trials involving defendants in custody are to take precedence.
Sessions for existing grand jury panels can be extended up to 20 days. State law requires jurors to be available for 30 court days.
If an existing grand jury panel cannot be extended, newly selected panelists can attend a remote jury orientation or report in person, provided that social distancing is maintained.
Jurors who are ill, caring for someone who is ill or at high risk of contracting COVID-19 can have their jury service postponed, as can jurors who have been laid off or become unemployed and can show how jury service can cause further economic loss for them.
While most courtroom proceedings have been postponed during the pandemic, arraignments and other hearings required by law to take place within a certain time frame for defendants in custody have continued to take place thanks to recently implemented videoconferencing technology at the Warren County Regional Jail.
“While it’s been different, we have been able to remain productive,” Cohron said. “I think, despite all the issues we have had during this pandemic, the adaptations made by the court system have allowed things to continue forward.”