Arizona Court Addresses New Changes in Court Procedures Due to Covid-19

Recently, an Arizona appellate court addressed the lower court’s new changes in procedure made in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency. The appellate court denied a defendant’s challenges to these changes, which included the option for potential jurors to appear by video instead of in-person and the decrease in peremptory strikes during jury selection.

The Facts of the Case

While traveling on a highway in a pickup truck, the defendant was stopped by law enforcement for a mud flap violation. The defendant consented to a dog sniff, which led to the officers finding drugs in the truck. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs being used as evidence against him at trial, arguing that he was detained for a time that was longer than necessary for officers to complete the traffic citation. The lower court denied the motion.

While the defendant awaited his trial, the Arizona Supreme Court modified court operations in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency. Typically, in the Arizona jury selection process, each party is allowed up to six peremptory strikes, or in other words the ability to choose up to six individuals who they would like to excuse from serving on the jury. In response to the pandemic, the Supreme Court decreased the number of peremptory strikes that each party could make, changing it from six strikes to two. Additionally, the Supreme Court authorized the use of technology for virtual jury selection instead of in-person jury selection.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress and objected to the use of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms for jury selection, arguing that the use of these platforms would deny him the right to a fair and unbiased jury. Additionally, the defense counsel objected to reducing the number of peremptory strikes. The court denied the motion to suppress because it was untimely, declared that the use of videoconferencing did not prevent the selection of a fair and unbiased jury, and denied the defense counsel’s objection to the limit on peremptory strikes. The defendant appealed.

The Decision

The defendant argued that his due process rights were violated because he was among the criminal defendants with upcoming trials who were subjected to different procedural rules because of the circumstances of the Covid-19 health crisis. Additionally, the defendant argued that the modified rules were not adopted according to Arizona Supreme Court rules. In response, the court explained that the procedural rules that were put in place at the time of trial, which in this case happened to be during the pandemic, applied to the defendant’s trial and that the Supreme Court has broader power to make emergency provisions.

Because the court reduced the number of peremptory strikes allowed, the appellate court explained that there is no constitutional right to peremptory strikes because these strikes are an added benefit that go beyond the minimum requirements of ensuring a fair jury selection and that the courts have discretion.

In addition, the defendant argued that the use of videoconferencing prevented him from being able to evaluate a potential jurors’ body language and demeanor, and the court explained that although it may be useful to see a potential juror’s demeanor in person, it is not required. Furthermore, the defendant argued that videoconferencing prevented his jury pool from being representative of the community by excluding lower-income individuals who may lack access to technology. However, the court stated that individuals had the option to appear in person or by video. The appellate court, therefore, denied the challenges defendant made to the Covid-19 court modifications, finding that these court modifications in response to the public health emergency were valid.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime in Arizona?

If you are facing criminal charges in Arizona, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak today. Attorney Novak is an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney who has expertise in navigating the court system and handling complicated cases including Arizona drug charges, DUI offenses, or assault charges. With changes in court procedures in Arizona during the Covid-19 public health emergency, Attorney Novak is knowledgeable about these changes and ready to assist you with your case. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499.


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