In-person jury trial postponement extended to Nov. 2

Aug 7, 2020

In-person criminal and civil jury trials in Alaska will be postponed until at least Nov. 2 to prevent the possible spread of COVID 19.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger signed the extension order Thursday. Jury trials were first postponed beginning March 16 by a similar special order given shortly after Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared an emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In June, the order was extended from July 6 to Sept. 1. With COVID case counts on the rise in Alaska, it’ll now be at least November before trials resume.

The postponement will further back up the justice system and it means some people charged with more serious crimes, who can’t leave on bail, will continue to wait for what is supposed to be a timely trial.

But Bolger says health and safety must be prioritized. The order cites space restriction in courtrooms. Facilities aren’t large enough to allow parties, attorneys, court personnel, a jury and the public to maintain social distancing.

The presiding judges in Alaska’s four judicial districts could still allow an in-person jury trial in exceptional circumstances but would have to be conducted with adherence to CDC recommendations.

Grand jury proceedings, which involve less people, resumed June 1 and are allowed to continue. Other types of hearings — bail and change of plea, sentencings and bench trials decided by a judge — are primarily being held over telephone or videoconference.

On Sept. 18, Bolger will review whether to extend the in-person trial suspension further.