Southern District suspends in-person trials till March

The Indiana Southern District Court has suspended all in-person jury trials until next year, a move announced just days after the Indiana Supreme Court implemented the same restrictions in state court.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson announced Wednesday that in-person jury trials would be suspended in the Indiana Southern District until March 1. Jury trials that can be conducted via video teleconferencing can proceed upon a motion and/or judge’s order.

“In the immediate future, it will not be reasonably possible to summon a pool of potential jurors and conduct a jury trial in a manner that does not expose potential jurors, counsel, court staff, and litigants to substantial and unacceptable health risks, specifically, the danger of becoming infected with COVID-19,” a Wednesday order signed by Magnus-Stinson says. “… For an extended time, it is likely that a significant number of potential jurors may request that their service on a jury be deferred or excused for reasons related to COVID-19 … .”

Delays in criminal trials in conjunction with the Wednesday order will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). Reasons for delay can include COVID-related health risks to jurors, court personnel and case parties; “significant difficulties” in the ability of a defense lawyer to meet with a client; and difficulties in trial preparation “caused by the inability to support the necessary close contact with witnesses.”

Other court proceedings can continue via phone, videoconferencing or in person as ordered in a particular case. Southern District courthouses will remain open during the in-person jury trial suspension, though previously established restrictions and screenings will remain in place and clerk’s offices will remain closed to the public.

In the Indiana Northern District, Chief Judge Jon DeGuilio on Wednesday issued an order extending the authorization of videoconferencing or teleconferencing from Dec. 18-March 17, 2021. That authorization applies to the circumstances previously allowed in General Order 20-08.

Also in the Indiana Northern District, jury trials have been continued through Jan. 29, 2021. The Northern District clerk’s offices are likewise closed to the public during that time.

“The threat presented by COVID-19 and its spread remain very real concerns and continue to create exigent circumstances; therefore, the Chief Judge finds that felony pleas and felony sentencings cannot be conducted in person without seriously jeopardizing public health and safety. As such, the presiding judge should be given discretion in determining whether to conduct such matters in person,” the Wednesday order out of the Northern District reads.

The Indiana Supreme Court likewise this week suspended in-person jury trials through March 1. Leaders of both the state and federal courts in Indiana have taken numerous steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, including authorizing remote proceedings, canceling in-person proceedings such as naturalization ceremonies and closing courthouses and offices to the public.

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