After one-year suspension, criminal jury trials set to resume slowly in state courts

View of the jury box in one of the courtrooms in the Dimond Courthouse in Juneau.
View of the jury box in one of the courtrooms in the Dimond Courthouse in Juneau. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

A limited number of criminal jury trials may resume in state courts starting March 17.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued an order Feb. 4 allowing jury trials under certain circumstances.

After a request by a party in each case, the presiding judge in each judicial district will make a decision based on public health considerations such as COVID-19 case counts and risk levels in the area.

They will also consider other issues such as the age and severity of the case, whether the defendant is still in jail, the number of witnesses and other people required to attend the trial, and whether courthouse facilities can safely handle a trial.

The judge will also consider any agreements made between the prosecution and defense that are intended to protect the safety of a large number of prospective jurors who may be called for a trial.

Otherwise, criminal jury trials remain suspended until at least April 19.

In his order, Bolger notes that COVID-19 case counts have declined in many areas and Alaska leads the nation in per capita vaccinations. But he says the situation is still uncertain with some areas in high alert status and a more contagious variant of coronavirus appearing in Alaska.

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