Crime & Courts

Alaska jury trials halted by pandemic set to resume in March

JUNEAU - The head of Alaska’s judicial system has issued an order resuming a limited number of criminal jury trials after proceedings were halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued an order Feb. 4 allowing jury trials to be held under certain circumstances beginning March 15, KTOO-FM reported.

Trials must be approved by the presiding judge in each district. Otherwise criminal jury trials will remain suspended until at least April 19.

The order directs presiding judges to accept trial requests and make decisions based on public health considerations including COVID-19 case counts and risk levels in the area.

Judges will consider the age and severity of the cases, whether defendants are incarcerated, the number of witnesses and others required to participate and the ability of courthouse facilities to safely hold trials.

Judge must also consider agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys intended to protect the safety of large numbers of prospective jurors.

Bolger’s order notes that coronavirus cases have declined in many areas and Alaska was leading the nation in per capita vaccinations.

But the situation remains uncertain with some areas on high-alert status and a more contagious variant of the virus recently appearing in Alaska, Bolger wrote.