In light of rising COVID-19 cases, chief justice suspends jury trials through November

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 6:07 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Chief Justice Joel Bolger has issued a special order suspending all in-person criminal and civil jury trials until Nov. 2.

The order was issued Thursday and will be in place unless it is suspended at a review on Sept. 18.

While jury trials are on hold, criminal hearings like arraignments, bail hearings or sentencings, can still continue through virtual means.

“While delaying in-person jury trials will have an impact on the justice system, it is a necessary step for protecting Alaskans’ health and safety,” the Alaska Court System said in a statement Thursday.

Most criminal cases can be resolved without a jury trial, the statement said, through negotiations between the prosecutor and defendant. The special order does not delay other proceedings and does not apply to grand jury proceedings.

Hearings and non-jury trials for family law cases and domestic violence cases are still able to continue through telephone and video conferences.

“To promote social distancing, the public may be required to participate by teleconference, videoconference, or video feed,” the order states.

The order says a judge could allow a jury trial to proceed but only in exceptional circumstances.

Trials that do occur must follow government health rules and people should practice social distancing and wear face coverings.

The Alaska Supreme Court Order was formed following the Municipality of Anchorage’s latest emergency order limiting the size of indoor gatherings.

“These developments suggest that it would be unduly challenging to require jurors and other participants to gather for purposes of trial,” the order states.

Jury trials have been suspended since March 16, but the delay in trials is excluded from following time constraints for trial under Alaska Criminal Rule, the order says.

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