Criminal trials are set to resume in Philadelphia on Sept. 8. And jurors heading to the courthouse for the first time since the coronavirus-related shutdowns began will face temperature checks, questionnaires about COVID-19 symptoms, and much less crowded rooms, according to a tentative plan distributed to court staff this week.
The plan, sent Tuesday evening to lawyers who frequent the courthouse, is to have two jury selections each weekday, with Monday being the designated day for homicide trials.
Summonses have been sent out for trials through Sept. 18, according to the plan, obtained by The Inquirer. The goal is to bring about 80 jurors a day into the courthouse, all of whom will receive detailed surveys a week in advance asking if they are exhibiting any symptoms of the coronavirus.
Those who answer no will report to the courthouse and have their temperatures taken. They will then be separated into two courtrooms, with each group undergoing the jury selection process separately with a judge through Zoom.
After the initial screening, jurors will be questioned individually by lawyers for both parties in the case. The interview room will be disinfected by courthouse staff, and the second group of jurors will be brought in to undergo the same process.
A spokesperson for the court system declined to comment on the specific plan, saying the process will continue to be modified before the start of trials. Other precautions are also being put in place at the courthouse, including mandatory mask and social distancing policies and limiting the number of people allowed on elevators.
Additionally, a “test run” of the jury selection process will take place sometime next week, with courthouse staffers filling in for jurors, the spokesperson said.
Elsewhere in the region, some trials have already begun.
Bucks and Chester Counties resumed civil trials in July, and Chester restarted criminal proceedings as well. Officials in Bucks County have set Sept. 28 as the earliest date for when criminal trials will resume. Montgomery and Delaware Counties have not yet set dates for when trials will return to their courthouses.
In New Jersey, court officials also are moving to resume trials, set to begin sometime in September in three judicial districts: Bergen County; Atlantic and Cape May Counties; and Gloucester, Cumberland, and Salem Counties. Jurors will be screened first with a virtual survey, then in person through jury pool screening at the courthouse. No exact date has been given for when the process will begin.