By Travers Mackel | WDSU | October 7, 2021
Zero jury trials have happened in New Orleans at criminal court since the pandemic started over a year and a half ago.
It comes as crime is on the rise and police are making arrests.
Criminal defense lawyer John Fuller is ready to get inside a courtroom, and argue for his clients … but that hasn’t happened in quite a while.
“It’s just been extremely difficult,” said Fuller.
That’s because no jury trials have been held at Orleans Parish Criminal Court — typically considered to be the state’s busiest courthouse.
Jury trials were allowed to resume last summer.
Our cameras were rolling as some jurors showed up on the first day.
But in recent weeks, people sent jury notices to come here — and serve — aren’t following through.
“We had a case set for trial 2-3 months ago and less than 20-percent of the pool showed up,” said Fuller.
To be exact, 16 out of 100 potential jurors attended that day.
You need 12 to make up a jury.
Fuller says many are citing: slow mail delivery – the COVID-19 pandemic and health concerns – and now, Hurricane Ida, for not coming.
One prosecutor tells WDSU Investigates that in another matter – 250 jurors were sent notices and fewer than 30 showed up.
“I think some of this is just — there hasn’t been adequate info shared with the public,” said Rafael Goyeneche.
Goyeneche leads the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
He says there’s no reason why a jury hasn’t been convened to handle a trial in New Orleans.
His data shows that in Jefferson Parish, 18 jury trials have happened since April, including one that ended Wednesday night.
And that parish isn’t alone.
“Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles — and no one has gone through what Lake Charles has gone through – they are and have conducted jury trials in the post-pandemic era,” said Goyeneche.
Wednesday – the high profile murder trial of Cardell Hayes — the man who was once convicted of shooting and killing Saints star Will Smith – was delayed six months, partially due to jury concerns.
Hayes was granted a new trial because his guilty verdict was not unanimous, which is now required in Louisiana.
Goyeneche says all parties involved in this — judges, the court, the district attorney, and sheriff – have to act.
“The courts just can’t blame the D-A and vice versa – there is plenty to go around and everyone has to be rolling in the same direction to make this happen,” said Goyeneche.
“I think we all could be more sensitive when it comes out our sensitivities – because this isn’t just impacting defendants — but also victims whose rights are being affected,” said Fuller.
WDSU News reached out to the courthouse spokesperson and the district attorney’s office for comment, both have not yet responded.