Public Health

California federal court joins others in delaying jury trials amid rise in COVID-19 cases

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A recent surge in COVID-19 cases prompted the federal court in San Francisco to announce Thursday that it would postpone jury trials until October.

In its general order, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which also has courthouses in Oakland, San Jose and Eureka, said no new jury trials would be conducted through Sept. 30, and any scheduled jury trial would be vacated or postponed until after that date.

“Due to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases and in light of the current guidance of public health agencies, the public safety will be best served by limiting the permissible in-court criminal proceedings to 10 people, which necessarily precludes jury trials,” the court said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the decision.

The court said judges in civil cases may choose to conduct bench trials by videoconference instead of postponement.

In criminal cases, the court said initial appearances for newly arrested defendants will be conducted before the magistrate judge by telephone or videoconference. Other court appearances may be waived, postponed or conducted by telephone or videoconference.

The court said it will permit in-court proceedings if attendance can be limited to 10 people.

Other courts across the country also announced this week that they would halt jury trials in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, the San Mateo Superior Court in California said it would suspend jury trials until Aug. 17 after the jury in a case was exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

First Judicial Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, who previously advocated for trials in asbestos lawsuits to resume, delayed one set for next month. reports that in a notice sent to the case’s attorneys Wednesday, he cited the “frightening” numbers of COVID-19 cases in several of West Virginia’s counties and suggested a new trial date of August 2021.

“I regret that I had to take this action, but I do believe that a jury trial that takes place next year in an atmosphere where people are not fearful of catching a virus that could take their life, will be in everyone’s best interest,” Wilson wrote.

In Kentucky, Daviess County Circuit Judges Jay Wethington and Lisa Payne Jones canceled all trials scheduled for August and September as a task force examines how to resume court proceedings, the Messenger-Inquirer reports. Wethington also said Fayette County and Jefferson County have canceled trials until 2021.

And last week, Chief U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill of the District of Connecticut announced in a general order that criminal jury selection and trials would be pushed until after Nov. 2.

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