St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors

St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors Although the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up many roadblocks in the St. Louis Circuit Court, the Grand Jury has been able to meet because of numerous precautions the Court has taken.St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors

And someday soon, also because of extensive measures to protect jurors’ health, the Court will be able to resume jury trials.

The primary responsibility of the Grand Jury is to hear evidence presented by prosecutors and decide whether it is sufficient for an indictment on criminal charges. The Grand Jury may also inspect and tour government facilities, including those facilities in the criminal justice system, although COVID precautions have limited in-person inspections and tours.

Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin explains that steps to protect grand jurors fall into three areas: cleaning and sanitizing; social distancing and isolation; and technology. In addition, all grand jurors are made aware of every positive COVID test of an employee, whether in the Carnahan Courthouse, Civil Courts Building or Juvenile facility.

In the area of cleaning and sanitizing, the Court has:

  • Added air purifiers in the Grand Jury Room.
  •  Provided jurors individual hand sanitizers and installed standing room sanitizers.
  • Contracted for commercial disinfecting of the room and individual desks every evening after the Grand Jury is in session. •
  • Kept disinfecting wipes in the lunch/break room and the Grand Jury Room.

In the area of social distancing and isolation, the Court has:

  •  Chosen six alternates rather than the usual four to allow grand jurors flexibility if they ever feel uncomfortable coming to the courthouse or if they have been exposed to COVID-19. •
  • Made available additional masks and face shields in the Grand Jury Room.
  • Provided individual desks situated 6 feet apart.
  • Provided individual pens, notebooks and criminal code books.
  • Provided a private lunch/break room attached to the Grand Jury Room. 
  • Provided food and drink so that jurors don’t have to go outside to eat or risk bringing unsanitized items to Court, including breakfast items, lunch, bottled beverages and snacks. The court has removed the communal coffee machine and provided a Keurig individual coffeemaker.
  • Limited access of people allowed in the Grand Jury Room to designated deputies, the Jury Supervisor, and limited circuit attorney staff.
  • Locking the Grand Jury Room and lunch/break room after each session so there is no access to anyone other than the commercial cleaning company. Only five keys to these rooms are available — to the Grand Jury foreman, Jury Supervisor, two deputies, and facilities managers. •
  • Private restrooms available to Grand Jurors where only one person can use the restroom at a time per CDC guidelines.

In the area of maximizing technology, the Court has:

  • Replaced in-person witness testimony with livestreamed video testimony into the Grand Jury Room. •
  • Suspended most tours and inspections. Instead, for example, a scientist from the Crime Lab provided a one-hour seminar, in which she came to the Court and grand jurors remained socially distanced. Video seminars also may be available.

When the Court is able to resume jury trials, Martin said, it will safeguard prospective jurors and jury pools in many ways including many of the above steps in addition to:

  • Staggering the arrival times of jurors for jury selection. 
  • Allowing only two people per elevator.
  • Mandating masks for everyone in the court buildings. •
  • Sending prospective jurors home after a judge has questioned them, rather than having them stay in the courthouse. The Jury Supervisor will then call each juror who has been questioned to notify them whether they have been selected.