Justices suspend jury trials until March as pandemic continues

The Indiana Supreme Court has taken the “drastic” step of suspending all jury trials in Indiana until March 2021 as Indiana continues to report high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. 

The court announced the suspension in an order handed down Monday. The order suspends jury trials from Monday until March 1, 2021.

“We have hope that 2021 will bring improved conditions. But hoping is not enough. There is more we must do, and we must act now,” Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush said in a news release. 

“Since March, we have been balancing the requirement to keep courts open with the need for public health,” Rush said. “The worsening pandemic creates urgency for us to halt jury trials as we maintain all other court operations, including through remote proceedings.”

The high court has handed down a litany of orders providing guidance to trial courts on how to best alter court operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the justices in November urged courts to take “more aggressive” approaches to in-person proceedings during the pandemic and through at least July 1. 

Despite efforts from courts and other statewide agencies, “more than 6,000 Hoosiers have died from the virus, and Indiana has the fourth highest daily cases per 100,000 residents in the nation,” according to a Monday release from the Supreme Court. 

“The threat of exposure from any in-court proceeding during these conditions, even when conducted under strict protocols, is high. And any exposures from such proceedings contribute to prolonging the emergency,” according to the Monday order, which was signed by Rush and with which all justices concurred. “So while the charge to carry on our full system of justice is clear and strong, we must all do our part, where and how we can, to slow the spread. We must take drastic measures we hoped would not be necessary.”

Per the high court’s order, for purposes of Indiana Criminal Rules 4(A) and (C) or early-trial demands filed under Rule 4(B) before Monday, “the tolled period shall be calculated from the date of this order through March 1, 2021, and shall then be subject to congestion of the court calendar or locally existing emergency conditions for good cause shown.”

For purposes of Rule 4(B) early-trial motions filed after Monday and before March 2, “the motion shall be deemed to have been made on March 1, 2021 and shall be further subject to congestion of the court calendar or locally existing emergency conditions for good cause shown.”

“All other court proceedings and operations must be conducted in accordance with the directives of this Court’s November 10, 2020 Order on Continued Emergency Actions and the guidance previously issued concerning safely conducting court operations and mitigating in-court exposures,” according to the order.”

The high court itself has been hit by the pandemic. 

Rush announced in September that she had tested positive for COVID-19. She released a public statement saying she was self-isolating and was working remotely. 

The chief justice announced in October that she was recovering and had tested negative. 

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