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As a result of authority granted by the Illinois Supreme Court, the 17th Judicial Circuit will take a different approach to social distancing in Boone and Winnebago Counties starting August 2, 2021.

“We are very much aware of the threat posed by the Delta variant to unvaccinated persons, but CDC guidelines do not require social distancing for those who are vaccinated,” said Eugene Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Circuit.  “We also know that, with widespread availability of the vaccine, people have had the opportunity to take the most important step toward self-protection -- vaccination.”  Consequently, Chief Judge Doherty said, the Circuit will no longer lay out its jury trial courtrooms on the assumption that all jurors must maintain six feet of separation during trials.  “Jurors who have, for their own reasons, made the decision not to be vaccinated and who wish to be socially distant from other jurors will be encouraged to let the court know of that request,” Doherty said.

Adhering to presumed six-foot distancing for all jurors has required the 17th Circuit to operate at reduced jury trial capacity.  In Winnebago County, for example, only two criminal courtrooms are capable of permitting such distancing for all jurors, instead of the usual eight courtrooms that might hear criminal jury trials.   “Throughout the State, we have returned to 100% capacity for a variety of different public activities and buildings,” Doherty said.  “We would like to think that affording accused defendants their constitutional right to a jury trial is at least as important as many of the entertainment venues which have now returned to full capacity.”

Current CDC data shows that approximately two-thirds of adults in the 17th Circuit are partially vaccinated, and more than half are fully vaccinated. Doherty encourages all unvaccinated 17th Circuit residents to assess whether now is the time for them to consider getting the vaccine.

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