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Crime & Courts

Alaska court system postpones jury trials through Nov. 2

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: August 7, 2020
  • Published August 6, 2020

Empty hallway on the 5th floor outside the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton in the Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Alaska Chief Justice Joel Bolger has suspended jury trials in Alaska courts until at least Nov. 2 in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus in Alaska.

In an order issued Thursday, Bolger cited school districts’ decisions to begin the school year remotely and the Municipality of Anchorage’s decision to prohibit indoor gatherings involving more than 15 people.

“These developments suggest that it would be unduly challenging to require jurors and other participants to gather for purposes of trial,” Bolger wrote.

Jury trials have been suspended in Alaska since March as a COVID-prevention measure, and this is the second time the suspension has been extended. Bolger said in his order that the suspension could be extended a third time, past Nov. 2, if conditions warrant. The order says that it will be re-evaluated “on or shortly after Sept. 18.”

The order contains some exceptions. A presiding judge can allow a jury trial “in exceptional circumstances,” and Bolger can approve specific trials to test health and safety procedures.

In a written statement, the court system said the order doesn’t affect grand jury proceedings or post-trial proceedings.

Criminal hearings will continue to take place by phone or video, as will civil cases.

“While delaying in-person jury trials will have an impact on the justice system, it is a necessary step for protecting Alaskans’ health and safety,” the statement said.

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