Citizens called to jury duty this week could hear a unique message from the commissioner’s office when calling to see if assigned to a jury pool.
“Due to the coronavirus," the message said, "there are no jury trials scheduled from March 25 through April 30.”
The State Supreme Court ordered all Idaho courts to only convene in person for emergency matters, but preferably only using remote communication. Other trials, hearings and motions, if not postponed, can still happen electronically — if a judge approves. No juries will be called while the order is in place.
Sara Thomas is the Administrative Director of Idaho Courts.
“[That order] specifically allows administrative district judges to implement additional local restrictions,” she said Tuesday. "That allows those adminisrative judges to make determinations specifically about what's going on in their districts."
Following The March 19 order from Idaho Health and Welfare mandating Blaine County residents to shelter in place, the county’s administrative judge — based in Twin Falls at the District Five office — reduced court operations to minimum personnel and the docket to emergency matters only. Blaine County, which ranges from the Sawtooths across much of Craters of the Moon National Park and includes the Sun Valley area, has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Idaho.
Thomas said remote technology is already in place in many courtrooms across the state and facilities are working to get every courtroom equipped with audio conferencing equipment or zoom video conferencing technology by next week. The Supreme Court order specified court proceedings should only continue if judges were assured they could happen remotely and be recorded properly for court record.
Idaho's Fourth District Court, headquartered in Ada County, announced March 16 it had suspended the requirement to have court reporters present, citing "unavoidable and anticipated absences." Monday, it authorized magistrate judges to act as district judges for criminal arraignments, in order to maximize use of limited video capabilities. Defendants would still appear before a district judge to enter a plea and receive bond requirements.
"We are trying to keep as many services open as absolutely possible with health and safety," Thomas said.
With that comes the question of defendants' rights to a speedy trial.
State law granting this right can be paused for good cause, and the state Supreme Court last week adopted a clarifying rule stating the inability to call a jury due to health and safety concerns satisfies good cause.
Thomas said there might be potential complaints over the constitutional right to a speedy trial, but judges would address those on a case-by-case basis.
"One of the things in deciding whether or not a speedy trial has been denied that [the court] will consider," she said, "is whether or not a jury could be brought in."
Many of Idaho's seven court districts had already limited some services prior to the State Supreme Court order, which was meant to establish a baseline of requirements and guidance across the state court system.
Emergency orders from local courts can be viewed here.
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