Madison County Courthouse prepares to resume jury trials in October

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Jury trials have been on hold for several months in Madison County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will resume again on October 19, but they won’t look the same. There are many safety precautions taking place at the Madison County Courthouse to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Touchless hand sanitizer stations have been placed outside courtrooms. In the next few weeks, a thermal scanner will be installed to test people’s temperatures as they walk through security. Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall says if a person has a temperature higher than 100 degrees, they will not be allowed to enter.

There have also been many changes made to courtrooms to keep jurors safe during trials.

“We’ve measured everything, we have put X’s and red tape where you can sit, and maintain six feet of distance,” said Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall.

One courtroom on the first floor has an occupancy of 96, but now it will only hold about a third of that.

“It’s been difficult,” Judge Hall said.

Creating space for social distancing has created logistical problems.

“We have some judges that cannot try jury cases in their courtroom because we can’t seat 12 jurors, plus the attorneys, and maintain social distance,” the presiding judge said.

Even as the wheels of justice resume turning, it will be a slow start. Only two judges will hold jury trials to begin with. Judge Hall says there are dozens of cases awaiting trial.

Jury summons will start going out Thursday. The judge says the jury selection process has also changed quite a bit.

“The smaller the number that we have of people coming to Madison County Courthouse the better off we are for everyone,” Hall said.

Potential jurors will now be legally qualified online with a questionnaire. After that they will be randomly assigned to a specific panel made up of 30 people and notified when they need to be at the courthouse.

The most serious cases remain on hold. Since capital murder jury pools are so large, Judge Hall says there will not be any death penalty cases tried through the remainder of the year.

Hall says people can expect to receive jury summons in the mail beginning next week.

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