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Jury trial delays mean a longer wait for justice

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties suspended jury trials once again over COVID-19 concerns.

TAMPA, Fla. — Jury trials are on hold again in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The chief judges in both counties made that decision earlier this week because of the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the Tampa Bay area. 

When a county's positivity rate hits 10 percent, the chief judge is required to review the best way to safely operate. 

Since both counties are currently over that, they suspended jury trials for a second time during this pandemic. Pasco County suspended its trials a week before. 

In Hillsborough County, State Attorney Andrew Warren says they were already behind by close to 200 cases when they resumed trials in October. And, with crimes still happening every day, they can't even keep up, much less catch up. 

RELATED: Pinellas County suspends jury trials due to recent COVID-19 spike

"It means that there are more delays in us achieving justice for victims. There are more delays in us holding defendants accountable for the crimes that they've committed. It limits our ability to impose sanctions on people that reduce the likelihood of them re-offending again. So there is an impact on our criminal justice system," Warren said. 

When jury trials resumed in October, many safety precautions were also put in place, and with social distancing a priority, the number of cases that could be done in-person was still limited.  

Now, possible budget cuts are also looming creating a situation with no good solution. 

"We are preparing to get crushed between a COVID backlog and a budget shortfall. As the backlog of cases go up from Covid and the budget predictions continue to go down, our work to keep the public safe gets squeezed in the middle."

To put this in perspective, if you become the victim of a crime today, it would be a very long time before that case could even get to court. They are still able to conduct hearings and motions virtually and are doing as much as they can that way.

It's just the jury trials that must be done in person, simply because the logistics of getting all the parties together and each juror on virtually makes it hard to conduct a 'fair' trial.

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