Judge says murder trial jurors must be vaccinated, citing concerns of a mistrial due to COVID-19

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All jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Alvaro Julio Roche Garcia are required to have two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Luke Dray/Getty Images/File - image credit)
All jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Alvaro Julio Roche Garcia are required to have two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Luke Dray/Getty Images/File - image credit)

Worries about a COVID-19 outbreak leading to a mistrial in a first-degree murder case have led a B.C. judge to rule that all jurors must be fully vaccinated.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams made the ruling last week, expressing concern that surging transmission puts the safety of everyone in the courtroom at risk.

"It would be a wholly unfortunate outcome for members of the jury or others who are involved in this process to become infected by the COVID-19 virus in the course of the trial," Williams wrote.

"Similarly, it would be a travesty to find this trial derailed and having to be brought to a premature conclusion — a mistrial — because COVID-19 infection had rendered participants, whether jurors, counsel, staff or anyone else involved, unable to continue."

The trial of Alvaro Julio Roche Garcia began Monday in Vancouver. He is accused of shooting 68-year-old Zenen Cepeda Silva to death in Vancouver in January 2019.

Williams acknowledged that other B.C. judges have taken a different approach to the issue of juror vaccination.

In August, another B.C. Supreme Court justice said he would not ask prospective jurors to disclose their vaccination status during the selection process for another jury trial.

That judge reasoned that other public health measures like physical distancing, masks and barriers had done an effective job of controlling the spread of COVID-19 so far, and therefore he couldn't justify asking a question that encroaches on "a private and personal sphere."

Since then, however, Williams said circumstances have changed and proof of vaccination is now necessary for the trial to run properly.

"The numbers have recently been in an increasing mode; the public health officer continues to make orders and impose restrictions with a view to managing the situation," he wrote.

"An important element in the battery of measures that have been taken to control the spread of COVID-19 in the community is actively encouraging individuals to receive two doses of the available and approved vaccines."

Jury selection was scheduled to take place over the weekend, and the trial is scheduled to last for 24 days.

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