Raleigh County Prosecutor talks jury trials and what they will look like in the age of COVID

RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – The West Virginia Supreme Court has given the lower courts the go-ahead to conduct jury trials. 

Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller says there will be a heavy emphasis on social distancing starting with the jury pool selection process.

The selection process typically takes days to find the twelve jurors and three alternates, but now it could take longer.

Keller says each person who is called in for jury duty will have to remain six feet apart from each person and likely the questioning will be done in small groups.

Although concern for getting the virus is not enough grounds for excusal, there are new virus-related questions each potential juror will be asked. 

“Those folks, folks on the potential jury, will all be asked those questions about any health concerns. Also, they’ll be asked if they care for a vulnerable person and importantly, it would pretty chaotic now at this moment, they’ll be asked about any out-of-state travel,” Keller said.  

In the courtroom, when the trial begins, each person will also have to spread out which means some jurors will be out of the box. 

The public will still have a right to attend even if that means they have to watch electronically in another room.

Keller says one of her biggest concerns is witnesses having to wear masks. 

“Jurors are instructed that it’s not just what the witness says. It’s their demeanor, and it is so important, and it’s something we do in everyday life, so it’s very distressing to think of asking jurors to judge a witness’ demeanor when half of their face is covered,” Keller said. 

She has two trials scheduled for August and October, but she’s concerned with the rising number of cases. 

“What happened and it’s no fault of the Supreme Court or anybody else’s, but everything was kind of shut down when we had negligible issues in West Virginia, and now we seem to be having growing issues, now we’re reopening and trying to think how to keep everyone safe without delaying proceedings any more than absolutely necessary,” Keller said.

Keller canceled May Grand Jury but plans to double up in September.  

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Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.