Cullman Courts to resume jury trials week of Sept. 14 with new COVID-19 safety procedures

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Cullman County Courthouse (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County Courts announced Friday that, starting in September, jury trials will resume with new procedures in place to decrease the chances of courtroom exposure to COVID-19. A statement issued by the court late Friday afternoon reads:
 

After adopting new procedures designed to keep jurors and other court participants safe from COVID-19, jury trials are set to resume in Cullman County beginning the week of September 14, 2020. Summonses will be mailed this Monday and should be arriving at the homes of potential jurors later in the week. 

Those individuals receiving a summons for September jury duty will be instructed to login to a dedicated and secure website using a unique PIN assigned to each prospective juror. The new juror registration website may be accessed using either a computer, tablet or smart phone. Once logged in, each prospective juror will be asked to complete a brief questionnaire. This new process has been developed in response to the current pandemic and will be the first occasion that online jury qualification has been used.  By completing the form, potential jurors may now qualify for jury service online and may also request to be excused from jury service for any other recognized exception.

Jurors who believe they may be at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due to age or an underlying medical condition or another recognized exception may use the online form to request to be excused rather than doing so in person. All requests to be excused from jury service should be made no later than noon, September 1, 2020.  

The new juror summonses also direct potential jurors to cullmancourts.org, the official court website for Cullman Circuit and District Courts, where additional information is provided about new protocols that have been adopted to make jury service safer during the current pandemic. Those new procedures include sanitizing benches and other frequently touched surfaces before individuals arrive for jury service, checking each potential juror for fever upon entry to the courthouse, social distancing measures while in the courthouse, assigned seats for potential jurors in the courtroom, contactless sanitizing stations outside each courtroom, one way travel staircases so that individuals do not pass one another when going up and down stairs, limitations on the number of people permitted in an elevator at any one time, a newly configured jury box that will permit jurors to be seated at least six feet from other jurors, and a new jury room that permits jurors to maintain an appropriate social distance during deliberations and recesses.

Individuals who receive a juror summons and do not have internet access that will enable them to complete online registration may contact the office of Circuit Court Clerk Lisa McSwain at the telephone number provided in the summons but should do so before September 1, 2020

“There are many unique challenges associated with conducting jury trials during a pandemic but preserving access to a trial by jury is constitutionally required and we have implemented new protocols designed to help keep people safe while those trials are being conducted,” said Presiding Judge Greg Nicholas. “But as important as jury service may be, we also recognize that not everyone is able to serve on a jury during the current pandemic, and the law allows individuals to be excused from jury service under certain circumstances,” said Nicholas. “By completing the online juror form, prospective jurors can let the court know about any health concern that would justify excusing them from jury service.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com