Dozens of district courts suspend jury trials as COVID-19 cases surge

As a sharp rise in coronavirus cases sweeps the nation, nearly two dozen U.S. district courts – including both in Indiana –  have ordered for the suspension of jury trials or grand jury proceedings, federal courts announced.

The surge in court orders in recent weeks marks a significant pause in efforts by federal courts to resume full operations, according to a Friday statement released by the United States Courts. In addition to suspending jury trials, many district courts are also scaling back other courthouse activities in response to increase in cases.

Several judges said that spikes in new diagnoses and hospitalizations have made the convening of juries an unacceptable risk, the statement says, with some expecting conditions to worsen as winter approaches.

“In order to resume jury trials, we will need to see the key health markers, as measured by the Colorado Department of Health, go down to acceptable levels,” said Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer, of the District of Colorado. “I am concerned that the markers will stay high for several months, despite recent efforts by the governor and metro-area mayors to put in place new restrictions.”

In addition to health data, some orders cited growing difficulties in getting jurors to hear cases. “Citizens’ increasing inability and reluctance to serve on juries is understandable,” said a Nov. 6 order signed by Chief Judge D.P. Marshall, Jr., of the Eastern District of Arkansas, “but it creates the possibility that our juries will not reflect a fair cross section of the Eastern District.”

Orders issued in recent weeks affect courts in most regions of the country, but are especially pronounced in cold-weather areas in the North, Midwest, and Plains states. Orders suspending jury trials or grand jury sessions have been posted since mid-October on 25 district court websites, while an additional dozen courts have continued suspensions that were already in effect.

Locally, both the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana announced earlier this month that they would be halting jury trials and canceling naturalization ceremonies in response to the continuing surge of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Other districts posting recent orders to suspend jury trials include: AlaskaArizonaEastern District of ArkansasColoradoNorthernCentral and Southern Districts of IllinoisKansasEastern and Western Districts of KentuckyMaineMarylandMinnesotaWestern District of MissouriNebraskaNevadaNorthern District of OklahomaWestern District of PennsylvaniaWestern District of TexasUtahEastern District of VirginiaEastern District of Washington; and Western District of Wisconsin.

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