Brazos County preparing to resume jury trials

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 6:33 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -

Brazos County is preparing to resume jury trials after COVID-19 brought them to a halt in mid-March. KBTX learned Wednesday the 272nd District Court has temporarily closed after staff were potentially exposed to the virus. They are expected to be closed for about two weeks. It’s just the latest delay in major impacts to the criminal justice center during coronavirus.

The county continues to send out jury duty summons. They will be making provisions for safety and social distancing once jury duty resumes. Court staff said the old sanctuary at the Brazos County Administration Building will host larger jury pools for district court cases and they will open up the Brazos Center as needed to keep potential jurors safe.

“We are already behind most of March, all of April, all of May and all of June,” said Steve Smith, Brazos County 361st District Court Judge. Smith has been working on their jury trial plans during the pandemic.

Mandatory masks, hand sanitizer and assigned seating are some of the changes you’ll notice at the Brazos County Courthouse.

“What we don’t want to happen is have everyone not respond, get to the point where we can have a jury trial and then we don’t have any jurors set to come,” said Smith.

He estimates around 30 jury settings haven’t happened yet in district courts due to COVID-19.

“Once we select a jury we’ll come back into our courtrooms and we will have the jurors spread out in the courtroom, once again to be socially distanced,” said Smith

Brazos County District Attorney Jarvis Parsons said they’ve disposed of about 320 cases and diverted another 300 during the outbreak.

“We are still having court, we’re still having magistrate court. We’re still having hearings and motions to revoke probations, bond hearings. We’re just doing those all via video conferencing,” said Parsons.

Court staff say jury trials should start next month but could be pushed to early August.

Local defense Attorney Craig Greaves said jury service is especially important now given the greater conversations about race in our country.

He said he’s seen lower participation by minority groups.

“I don’t understand it that you know no one wants to go to jury duty everybody talks about how to get out of jury duty but it ought to be something that you, especially at this time right now if you’re a minority that wants to make a change, that wants to do something. Yes step up,” said Greaves.

If you’ve gotten a jury summons, court officials say you should respond even though trials aren’t happening just yet.

“We need to get back to the business of Justice in Brazos County,” said Smith.

Another byproduct of COVID-19, the DA said crime has taken a break during the pandemic so they’ve had fewer criminal cases in recent months to add to their pile.

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