WOODBURY COUNTY, Iowa (KCAU) – Criminal courts in Woodbury County are back in business after being shut-down by the COVID pandemic last March.
Civil court cases in Woodbury County resumed in July, but it wasn’t until this week that criminal trials started again. If you thought the criminal trial process was complicated before COVID, it’s even more complicated now.
Susan Dziurawiec was a jury member in Woodbury County’s first criminal trial since March.
She said it was a unique experience.
“It was a totally different atmosphere than it used to be, but they made it work for everybody,” said Dziurawiec.
The Woodbury County court clerk says criminal trials must now follow proper social distancing and require more potential jurors for each case.
“We summon about 30 percent more than what we need for those cases where we might get last-minute call-ins, they aren’t feeling well, they are afraid they may have COVID, they are worried about how we are doing our social distancing, so we try to arrange for that,” said Berntson.
With more jurors being called, 3rd District Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer says they’ve had to move jury selection outside of the courthouse.
“When we call in more than just increases our space needs if we need and want to keep six feet between them,” said Judge Hoffmeyer.
An alternative venue had to be found.
“The Long Lines Center was made available to us, there is a new management group taking over that entity, so I will have to contact those folks and see if we can get back in there,” said Judge Hoffmeyer.
“It was very different to be in Long Lines where you used to watch the Musketeers, you know, or the Globetrotters and there you are sitting in there where the jury selection was being held it was very different,” said Dziurawiec.
Judge Hoffmeyer has reached out to numerous venues looking for the next place to hold jury selection.
“It’s extremely challenging and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for defendants who are in jail and want a speedy trial, but yet from March until July, we were unable to give them a speedy trial because there were no jury trials taking place,” said judge Hoffmeyer.
That’s what it takes to find a jury. In the criminal trial this week, those people selected to be on the jury and the judge had to be seated throughout the courtroom to keep everyone socially distanced.