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Ninth Circuit goes with clear masks to show expressions

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Clear Mask in the Ninth CircuitIt was clearly an improvement.

Faced with the concern about reading juror and witness expressions when it resumed criminal trials last October, Ninth Circuit court and county officials got together and using fed-eral COVID-19 pandemic relief funds purchased 25,000 clear face masks.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Don Myers said the masks are provided free to jurors and witnesses and offered free to defendants who are not required to use them.

A recent high-profile, televised murder trial got the practice noticed, he said.

“I actually got a call from the [U.S. Middle District of Florida] district court after that was televised, asking where we got the masks,” Myer said.

The masks “allow the lawyers and judges to see the response of jurors and witnesses who are testifying,” he said. “It allows us to see their facial expressions and evaluate all the typical reactions to evaluate witness testimony…. We just knew we needed to be able to fully appreciate the witness’ demeanor, facial expressions, smiles, all those things you miss behind the [opaque] masks.”

There’s been no reluctance to use the masks and both judges and lawyers, Myers said, appreciate being able to see the entire face during testimony, jury selection, and the trial.

He said the masks have a clear, impermeable central area, with foam around the nose and chin and fabric on the sides, and breathing has not been a problem. The clear part is formu-lated so it doesn’t fog.

“We cleared them through our Department of Health folks to confirm they are safe and appropriate to use,” Myers said.

With more vaccinated residents and dropping COVID-19 infection rates, the judge said more trials are being scheduled with the help of the clear masks.

“We will restart this Friday [April 30] our civil trials using the same technology and using the clear masks for jurors and witnesses,” Myers said.

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