Houston’s municipal courts won’t be holding jury trials any time soon thanks to the risks posed by the ongoing and worsening coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday morning, the City of Houston announced that the Municipal Courts Department has decided to keep all jury trials suspended through August 31, while all non-jury trial municipal court proceedings will continue as usual. The decision was made “to encourage the health and safety of the public and the court staff members” due to “changing circumstances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Municipal Courts Department explained in a press release.
Previously, the suspension of municipal jury trials had been extended through August 3 back on May 29. Thursday’s extension came on the heels of an order from the Supreme Court of Texas on June 29, which dictated that local courts “must not hold a jury proceeding, including jury selection or a jury trial, prior to September 1, except as authorized by this Order.”
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Area defense attorneys have supported limiting in-person court activities out of concern for the safety of defendants, legal professionals and court staff. In an April 13 letter to Harris County officials and the press, Neal Davis, President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, argued that given the availability of video conferencing technology, requiring physical court appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic “endangers the lives” of all involved.
Defendants who have a scheduled jury trial between now and August 31 will have to visit the municipal court in-person to reschedule before September 1 at 5 p.m., and any Houstonian who has received a jury summons for between now and August 31 is off the hook.
The Municipal Courts Department is asking members of the public experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to not come to court unless they’ve received approval from their doctor. Protective face masks are required to be worn at all times within the municipal courthouse, and anyone entering the court will have their temperature checked before they’re granted entry.
The full announcement from the Municipal Courts Department can be found on the municipal courts website.