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Today the Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 2020-10 delaying all jury trials from today’s date for 60 days, “until June 20, 2020, or as otherwise provided for by local order, whichever date is later.” Defendants should not be forced to remain incarcerated while their constitutional right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment is being violated.  Defendants should not have to remain in a jail where social distancing is not possible, and the risk of contracting COVID-19 is increased.

The Sixth Amendment provides, “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 defence.”

The right to a speedy trial secures rights to a defendant. A defendant does not have to show actual prejudice by delay.  The court is to balance four factors to decide if a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated. The four factors are:  the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right and prejudice to the defendant. Generally, the individual circumstances for delay in each case is to be assessed. But with all the criminal cases pending before the courts, the reason for the delay currently is the same, COVID-19.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The disease caused by COVID-19 is spread through droplets of infected people from coughing, sneezing or breathing.  One can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are close in proximity to someone who has it. One can also be infected by touching a surface that contains the virus and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes. Social or physical distancing from other people, staying 6 feet apart, helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Jail setup doesn’t usually allow for social distancing between inmates because inmates are housed with many others in small spaces. Historically jury trials aren’t set up to allow for social distancing between jurors. Jurors sit in a jury box seated close to one another.   Social distancing may also not be practical for trial witnesses, attorneys and others who are apart of and involved in trials, depending on the size of the courtroom.

COVID-19 is preventing people from having “normal” contact with each other and thus, prevents the ability for jury trials to occur. This inability for people to have “normal” contact is causing defendants’ right to a speedy trial to be violated. Defendants who are incarcerated while awaiting trial should have a motion filed for pretrial release. Public health concerns regarding the jail population and the spread of COVID-19, and the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial require action that should result in pretrial release for a large segment of the jail population.

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