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Trial dates pushed back again as COVID-19 spreads across Idaho

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Judge Michelle Mallard during a court hearing in May 2020 | Post Register file photo

IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Supreme Court has again pushed back the start of jury trials as COVID-19 continues to spike across the Gem State.

Initially, judges decided in April to not start any trials until the first Monday in August. However, “due to the continuing rise in positive COVID-19 cases throughout Idaho,” the Idaho Supreme Court says no criminal trial should start before Sept. 14 and no civil trial before Dec. 1, according to a judicial order issued on Friday.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Idaho, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports 19,679 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 statewide since mid-March. It the past month, the number of cases tripled in the Gem State. So far, 173 people have died as a result of COVID-19, and 6,472 people have recovered from the virus. COVID-19 has an extremely high recovery rate, and the vast majority of people who catch the virus will recover at home with no problems.

In addition to delaying the start of trials, the order requires jury commissioners to send out COVID-19 questionnaires along with a jury summons. The questioner has 10 personal health questions about potential jurors and their potential risk to exposure to the novel coronavirus.

The questioner also allows any person 65 and older to opt-out of jury service if they indicate they wish to be excused. The order comes along with guidance from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, discouraging jurors from being over the age of 65 due to their risk to COVID-19.

When trials resume, the Supreme Court issued guidelines, including those in the courtroom to maintain social distancing measures. A judge can allow attorneys to be closer than six feet to their clients, allowing conversation.

The attendance inside the courtroom will also be limited at the discretion of the judge. Due to limited space in courtrooms, most hearings will only allow people like court staff, witnesses, jurors, defendants and attorneys.

“If the public cannot be physically present in the courtroom, a publically accessible live audio and video stream of the proceedings must be provided,” the order reads.

Witnesses testifying in court may also wear face shields or sit behind a transparent barrier like plexiglass. Masks should not be used by those testifying, “so facial expressions and the mouth can be observed while speaking.”

Anyone who refuses to comply with the order can be barred from entering the courthouse and be held in contempt of court, according to the order.

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