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Florida extends jury trial delays, adding stress to legal system

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News) – Justice for those awaiting jury trials has been further delayed in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court has extended its suspension until July 2. They first started suspending jury trials in mid-March.

The latest extension means justice will be delayed more than three months for those awaiting trial by their peers.

“This statewide halting of jury trails for months on end is pretty unprecedented,” said Sumayya Saleh with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

There have been local efforts by some – like Jack Campbell, State Attorney of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit – to prevent cases from piling up by reducing arrests for minor offenses and releasing some low-level offenders.

“We’ve been very busy trying to get those people we can out,” said Campbell.

There were 43,379 arrests statewide in March and just 21,985 in April, according to numbers we received from The Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It’s a 50 percent reduction, but Saleh points out those convicted of more serious crimes are stuck in a legal limbo.

“There’s still thousands of people locked up in jails around the state and those thousands of people all have jury trial rights,” said Saleh.

Campbell agrees there’s going to be a massive backlog.

“It’s very rare that the system works without that ultimate deciding factor,” said Campbell.

The Supreme Court’s latest order does expand the types of proceedings that can be conducted virtually, including common hearings like traffic ticket challenges.

If you have any legal dispute that can be settled virtually, the sooner you do so the better.

It could prevent you from getting caught in the backlog when jury trials resume and it can help those awaiting justice settle their cases faster.

“We’re trying to get all that done so that when we do become live again, we will be able to dedicate all our time and resources to doing those jury trials,” said Campbell.

And some of the virtual proceedings may be here to stay. A work group has been tasked with recommending what can stay online even after the pandemic ends.

Here’s the list of court proceedings now allowed to be conduced virtually:

  • Non-jury trials, except that all parties must agree to remote non-jury proceedings in criminal, juvenile delinquency and termination of parental rights cases
  • Alternate dispute resolution cases
  • Status, case management and pretrial conferences in all case types
  • Non-evidentiary and evidentiary motion hearings in all case types
  • Arraignments and pleas in absentia in county court misdemeanor cases
  • Hearings in juvenile delinquency cases
  • Hearings in noncriminal traffic infraction cases
  • Problem-solving court staffings, hearings and wellness checks

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