Criminal Justice

Criminal defense lawyer challenges jury trial moratorium, argues cases can’t be paused indefinitely

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A criminal defense lawyer has filed a speedy trial demand that challenges a federal court’s order suspending all jury trials until March 12.

Lawyer Mark A. Berman has argued in his Jan. 20 motion that the New Jersey federal court has effectively paused jury trials indefinitely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his motion, Berman cited a concurring opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch in a case that lifted restrictions on religious services.

“Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical,” Gorsuch wrote.

Berman told Law.com that federal courthouses in Newark, New Jersey, have large courtrooms that could accommodate socially distanced trials. In the alternative, the trial could take place in another location that is larger, he said.

If there is no trial, the remedy is dismissal of charges against his client, Alice Chu, with or without prejudice, Berman said.

“It appears that we are living in a world where the constitutional right to a speedy trial has been deemed ‘nonessential,’” Berman wrote. “Who would have guessed that a criminally accused’s Sixth Amendment right not to be cast as a pariah for an indeterminate period of time would prove to be deemed less important than access to their local Home Depot?”

Berman told Law.com that he is encouraged by two recent decisions in which federal judges in California dismissed indictments in similar cases.

Chu is a Fort Lee, New Jersey, rheumatologist who was indicted on charges of Medicare fraud in September 2019.

“Dr. Chu’s professional and financial life has been destroyed by the indictment in this case,” Berman wrote. “She has gone from having a successful medical practice, in which she helped dozens of patients on a daily basis, to a state of personal destitution and despair. She cannot wait any longer for the criminal charges against her to be adjudicated at trial.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Judges differ on when it’s safe to hold in-person jury trials”

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