WDSU Digital Team | July 6, 2021

NEW ORLEANS — Jury trials have been put on pause for 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic in New Orleans, resulting in a massive backlog of cases.

Jury trials are set to resume Tuesday in the city.

The City of New Orleans said the public can volunteer for jury duty by calling the Jury Commission Office.

The pandemic-related backlog of cases ready for jury trial in Orleans Criminal District is “monumental,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Goyenche said the backlog is even worse than Katrina.

Those delays strain prosecutors as much as the defense, Goyeneche said.

“It’s more than just scheduling for trial. It’s making sure that the witnesses, both defense and prosecution are still available. And that could add to further delays in all of this,” he said. “The longer a case sits, the more problems that evolve in that particular case. And there’s the old adage of justice delayed is justice denied.”

Data tracked by the New Orleans City Council show 176 people housed at the Orleans Justice Center jail are awaiting trial on charges of criminal homicide. And unlike Hayes, defendants who are behind bars may have a stronger case to push their trial date to the front of the line.

Goyeneche also noted the challenge of managing the backlog will be faced by a panel of a dozen judges in criminal court that includes six who are newly elected, along with a newly elected district attorney and the natural turnover that comes with a change of leadership in that office.