When you are in the middle of criminal court proceedings, or if you have a criminal trial coming up soon, you are probably wondering what exactly will happen with jury trials during the COVID-19 crisis. While many non-essential businesses have closed, the courts are still open. However, in an attempt to keep gatherings of people to a minimum, Indiana courts are limiting some jury trials.
Jury Trial “Continuance”
In Indianapolis, Chief Judge Loretta Rush issued an emergency order for Marion Country Circuit and Superior Courts, “continuing,” or pausing until a later date, all jury trials starting March 16, 2020, to April 15, 2020. Judge Rush then issued another order extending the date to May 1, 2020. The order applies to all civil jury trials and out-of-custody criminal trials. The order will only continue jury trials where the defendant is currently in custody if the continuance won’t violate the defendant’s rights.
The latest order requires the Marion Superior and Circuit Courts to review whether jury trials can resume on May 1, 2020, no later than April 13, 2020, to allow time for juror notification. There is a chance jury trials will not resume by May 1, 2020. In the meantime, Judge Rush granted, “[…] permission for all hearings, including but not limited to: initial hearings, bond reviews and dispositive hearings, to be conducted remotely using available teleconferencing and/or video conferencing.”
Right to Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also enshrined in the Indiana constitution, grants criminal defendants the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. As a result, while continuing trials amid a pandemic, a court has to balance a defendant’s right to a speedy trial with public safety. It’s unlikely that a delay of a few months alone, without other circumstances, would be a violation of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
Indiana Criminal Rule 4 also places an affirmative duty on the state of Indiana to bring a case to trial within six months if the defendant is in custody. The rule does allow for court emergencies, and the onset of the novel COVID-19 virus undoubtedly qualified as an emergency. Undoubtedly, the court will postpone most criminal jury trials until this public health emergency is under control.