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Live Mic: Coronavirus in the court system

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SALT LAKE CITY — Coronavirus is hitting the court system. Utah’s response to the coronavirus is centered around restricting large group gathering and implementing social distancing measures.

While these practices help the general public, it complicating the necessary functions of everyday life. For example, there are safety concerns about jurors gathering to proceed with a criminal trial.

So,  how do the courts go about guaranteeing a citizen’s right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution?

Third District Presiding Judge Mark Kouris joined KSL’s Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to explain how the court system is executing justice for all during the coronavirus pandemic.

“How does a defendant get a speedy trial during all of this pandemic?” Lee asked the judge.

“That is something, needless to say, that we’ve had to wrestle quite a bit with,” Kouris said.

Holding court electronically

The judge said only about 3% of criminal cases actually end up proceeding to a jury trial and are tried, adding that if the number increased to as much as 10%, the justice system would effectively break down.

Kouris said bringing together a large number of potential jurors in one room would be very difficult during the pandemic.

“What we’ve done is tried to make the other 97 or 98 percent of the process continue to move along. And we’ve done that with a number of good strategies,” Kouris said.

See you in e-court

The IT department workers at the court connected the judge to a virtual “courtroom” in eight days, a process he said that would have normally taken at least six months.

Kouris explains how it works.

“So what I do now is go out into my courtroom. There’s no one in there. My clerk turns the record on to make sure the whole thing’s being recorded.

“I pull my screen up, and there I have a number of people, their faces represented on the video feed. I have the jail. I’ve got 10 or 15 defense lawyers, all coming from their own offices or houses. I’ve also got prosecutors there. Can we go through the calendar and call these people,” the judge told Lee.

Except for a jury trial, he said, all other court matters are happening.

“[For preliminary hearings] We have prosecutors bring witnesses to their offices if they’re the ones who called witnesses. They testify right on the video,” the judge explained. “Defense lawyers question them right there on the video.

Kouris said defense lawyers can consult with their clients on a phone lead that goes down to the jail. He added that it’s not the best scenario but goes a long way to ensure a defendant’s constitutional rights are not infringed.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

State of Utah:

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line 18004567707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.