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Some criminal trials to resume in Duval County next month

After a nearly six-month hiatus, local courts look to resume felony jury trials in early October.
Credit: Royal Hurlbert
Duval County Courthouse

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The bottleneck that has stalled much of the criminal justice system may loosen slightly as the Duval County Courthouse moves toward a new phase of COVID-19 recovery.

According to several sources who work in the court system, Chief Judge Mark Mahon has determined the local courthouse is ready to move into Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening by resuming “very limited jury trials” in October.

According to a letter sent to lawyers for the state, the process will begin with a grand jury being convened in early October to gauge community response to a jury duty summons in the midst of a pandemic. Officials will call 300 people and select a grand jury of 21 as a kind of “pilot project.”

Compliance with CDC guidelines limits the number of potential jurors who can physically be in the courthouse assembly room to 55, compared to hundreds pre-pandemic. Two courtrooms that can each hold 40 potential jurors can also be used.

The first criminal trial is set to begin Oct. 12 with 150 potential jurors. A second round of jurors will be called the following week for two trials, set to begin the week of Oct. 26. Sources say Judge Mahon expects the plan will change and that processes remain fluid as court staff adjust to the pandemic environment.

First Coast News reached out to Judge Mahon but we have not yet heard back.

Full scale trial calendars with cases each week in all criminal divisions likely will not begin until Phase 3, which is not expected to happen until next year.