Courts in Marion County and at least two other Indiana counties are suspending jury trials and reinstituting some restrictions in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases that continues to rise across the state.
In a pair of orders issued Thursday for jury trials and operational changes, Marion circuit and superior courts stated that within the last three days, nearly 40 vaccinated and unvaccinated court staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Circle City judiciary has thus suspended all jury trials and limited capacity and is requiring face masks in the City-County Building, the juvenile justice complex and the Marion Superior Court probation office.
Similarly, Madison County courts and the Lake County courts’ criminal division have also suspended jury trials.
Courts in Allen and Vanderburgh counties told Indiana Lawyer they have not issued any new restrictions or made any changes to the docket. Clark County courts did not return a call seeking information.
The Indianapolis Business Journal reported the state had 12,960 new positive cases as of Jan. 5, an all-time high for the Indiana State Department of Health’s update. The seven-day positivity rate for all tests was 19.7%.
Also, at least 48 of Indiana’s 92 counties are listed in the red zone, according to the ISDH. Marion County had a 23.7% positivity rate as of Jan. 3, while Lake and Madison counties posted positivity rates of 28.5% and 18.9%, respectively.
In the orders signed by the five judges on the Marion County Courts executive committee, the court determined that because of the rapidly rising positivity rate, an emergency does exist. All jury trials are continued and will be reset after Jan. 21. All individuals age 2 and older must wear masks in court facilities, and capacity will be limited to 50%.
A Madison Circuit Court order issued Tuesday extended the period during which trials are suspended.
In a Dec. 30, 2021, order, all jury trials, including speedy trial requests, were suspended through Jan. 17, 2022. However, the new order extends the suspension through the “duration of time that Madison County is in the ‘red’ Advisory Level … .”
The protocol update from the criminal division in Lake County is allowing jury trials and hearings on petitions to revoke probation for incarcerated defendants.
Trials for nonincarcerated individuals will be affirmed or continued at the court’s discretion. Petitions to review probation for nonincarcerated defendants will be held in-person, but only for those individuals deemed at higher risk of recidivism. All other PTR hearings for nonincarcerated defendants will be reset.
Social distancing and masking will be enforced. Also, the courtroom capacity is being reduced so that only one individual accompanying the defendant and one accompanying the complaining witness of the alleged crime may attend.
Initial hearings for incarcerated defendants will be held three days a week on Zoom and for nonincarcerated defendants will be rescheduled for a later date. In addition, parties are being directed to file a motion to continue any matters that are not substantive.