MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After being on pause for more than a year, jury trials will soon resume in Shelby County. But there is a long backlog of court cases officials will have to address.
Shelby County hasn’t held a jury since March 2020 because of COVID-19.
Shelby County Criminal Court Judge John Campbell allowed WMC’s cameras inside one of two new COVID-19 compliant courtrooms that have been built on the fourth floor of 201 Poplar.
It’s where jury trials will be held once they resume.
The new courtrooms are larger than the typical courtrooms.
“This one has been adapted so we can handle jury trials in here during the pandemic. The seating has been arranged so we can spread people out. We have some plastic shields around certain parts of the courtroom. We’ve got monitors and cameras to allow people to see things better,” said Campbell. “This is where we’re going to be trying our cases for the next few months until we get approval to use our own courtrooms.”
Jurors will also be kept socially distant from one another before the trial.
The auditorium on the first floor of 201 Poplar is where jury selection will take place. Spaces have been marked to keep the prospective jurors distant.
Keeping people safe and socially distant before and during trial is one challenge.
A bigger challenge will be addressing the backlog of cases that have been piling up for more than a year.
“We’ve got over a year of backup about 450 cases,” said Campbell. “It’s going to take a long time.”
Campbell says one problem is they can only try two cases a week in the new courtrooms.
The process should speed up when they’re back in their regular courtrooms, he says.
Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says many cases are disposed of just before trial begins, like when a defendant decides to plead guilty at the last minute.
She says that’s another reason it’s important to get jury trials up and running again.
“We have a daily increasing number of violent crimes being committed so the need to get jury trials off the ground is huge,” said Weirich.
She says her team was ready to try two cases this week, but one case was delayed and the defendant in the other case pleaded guilty at the last-minute
The first jury trials will now likely start next week.