Criminal courts face challenge of trials during pandemic

As criminal trials begin, COVID-19 remains a problem
NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Who's Judging The Judges?
Posted at 1:34 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 19:55:47-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Criminal trials are back in Tennessee, but will there be COVID in the court? That's a big concern now that the State Supreme Court this month lifted the ban that was in place during the past year because of the pandemic.

There are already problems, and there's no guarantee you can have trials without people getting sick.

It's an issue in courts everywhere, and here in Nashville, Sheriff Daron Hall says he may need to take special steps to make sure inmates at the jail don't get COVID before they go across the street for court.

And that means sheriffs everywhere -- not just in Davidson County -- must find the jail space to quarantine all inmates two weeks before they are set to stand trial, so they do not get sick.

"I think it is a really good call on the sheriff's part to quarantine because he doesn't want to be the one that prevents the trial from going forward," said legal analyst Nick Leonardo, who added that it's a constitutional necessity.

There is already a huge backlog of cases with the accused -- thousands of them -- waiting for their day in court.

In Davidson County, limits are being set on the number of criminal trials allowed to be going at once to make available a large space for the jurors.

"The plan is to only have two criminal trials, and the jury deliberates in adjacent courtrooms that are shut off," said Leonardo.

But, we're just one week into the opening of criminal trials across the state, and there are already problems.

You need look no further than the high-profile Joe Clyde Daniels case where an important motions hearing in Dickson County was postponed this week because some experts needed for testimony were exposed to COVID and had to be quarantined.

One solution moving forward -- the vaccine.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall says there's no mandate, but he's encouraging everyone expected to be involved in trials to get their shot.

Judges will do everything they can to make things safer, from requiring masks to trying to socially separate everyone in the courtroom.

Will it be enough? We are about to find out.