Indiana Supreme Court Suspends Jury Trials Until March Due To COVID

Jackson & Scott County Prosecutors Say It Will be Business As Usual For Them

Last week the Indiana Supreme Court handed down an Order Suspending Jury Trials statewide until March 1, 2021, citing the need for drastic measures as COVID-19 continues to surge. The state’s highest court beleives in-person jury trials pose an exceptional risk to everyone involved—even if every precaution is taken.
“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,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush said about the Court’s latest action to address the pandemic. “Since March, we have been balancing the requirement to keep courts open with the need for public health. The worsening pandemic creates urgency for us to halt jury trials as we maintain all other court operations, including through remote proceedings.”
The Supreme Court has given local courts authority to adjust operations since the beginning of the public health emergency, most recently in a November 10 order. This authority has included holding remote proceedings and streaming public hearings online.
In addition, a Resuming Operations Task Force released guidance on managing court proceedings as conditions change, guidance on safely resuming court operations, and protocols for mitigating in-court exposures.
Despite all the measures that have been taken, 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. By limiting non-essential in-court proceedings, Indiana courts can avoid intensifying the pandemic’s impact on our communities.
According to Scott County Prosecutor Chris Owens, his office will use other means allowable to see that criminals are held accountable during the jury trial suspension.
“Our office will still fight to resolve cases by agreement and we will continue to use other ways to see that people charged with crimes in our county are held responsible for their actions,” Owens said. “I have met with my staff and stressed the importance of continuing to keep cases moving toward resolution so that a backlog does not occur. During this time, we will put extra effort into the types of hearings that are still allowed, like probation violations or offenders who violate conditions of their bond.”
“We’ll not be slowing down during this time and criminals in our community should be put on notice that we will still pursue you and see to it that justice is being served,” he added.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant said the suspension of jury trials is “necessary for everyone’s safety and health” and it shouldn’t be much of an inconvenience for the prosecutor’s office.
“When March rolls around hopefully people can come in and have a trial if they want to,” he said.
Chalfant said there were no jury trials from March until August because of Indiana’s stay-at-home order that lasted from late March through early May, and because there has not been a lot of jury trials in Jackson County this year.
Between August and November, six felony jury trials were conducted.