Criminal Jury Trials in a Global Pandemic: Safeguarding the Constitutional Rights of the Accused
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the ability of individuals to travel and assemble at all, much less to convene in the close quarters of a jury, present particular challenges for the U.S. criminal justice system.
In the face of this pandemic, how can the accused's Sixth Amendment rights be safeguarded—in particular, how can criminal defendants be assured that their trials will be "speedy and public," that their fates will be determined by an "impartial jury" drawn from the district, that they may be "confronted by witnesses against [them]" in a constitutionally adequate way, and that they will have the effective assistance of defense counsel?
This Jones Day White Paper explores the tension between preserving the health and safety of the public and the demands of justice with respect to criminal trials.