COVID-19 and the courtroom: DA asks governor to extend trial deadlines
DA Bruce Brown wants to add 45 days to current six-month mandate
EAGLE — District Attorney Bruce Brown says that, at least for now, asking potential jurors to crowd into courtrooms is a monumentally bad idea, and will ask the governor to delay jury trials for at least a month and a half.
The coronavirus is forcing many public spaces to close, Brown said in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis. Brown will ask Polis to add 45 days to Colorado’s six-month “speedy trial” mandate, the minimum time between someone being arraigned on a criminal charge and the beginning of their jury trial.
Polis gave himself the authority to grant the extra 45 days when he signed an executive order declaring a Disaster Emergency Due to the Presence of Coronavirus Disease.
Jurors have rights, too
While the accused has a right to a speedy trial, potential jurors have rights, too, Brown said in his letter.
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“Hundreds of Colorado citizens are continuing to receive jury summons in the mail and being required, as a jury summons is a court order, to walk into crowded courthouse hallways, proceed to crowded jury assembly rooms, and will continue to be summonsed into crowded courtrooms, sitting side by side people, many of whom may unknowingly be infected with coronavirus,” Brown’s letter said. “Colorado courthouses, in a titanic-sized blind gesture, are steering full steam into the virus’ grip.”
State Supreme Court doesn’t go far enough
On Monday, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats cited coronavirus in ordering strict limits on the types of cases that must continue to be heard in Colorado’s courts.
“This was a bold and appropriate move, however, it did not go far enough,” Brown said.
The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks, especially in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District mountain counties: Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties, Brown said.
“We, unfortunately, have been branded Colorado’s viral bullseye,” Brown said.
Adding another 45 days to the trial schedule could help reduce the danger of jurors’ exposure to COVID-19.
Defendant’s fair trial
“It is not such a stretch that the added weight of the current coronavirus would skew a trial result, despite every juror’s best intentions,” Brown said. “Criminal defendant’s rights during such dire times are clearly at risk. With each cough or sneeze, jurors spaced inches from each other within a jury box will be hard pressed to focus on evidence and will have one thing weighing in mind – ‘get me out of this courtroom as soon as possible.’”
Brown said that while he has “great faith” in a criminal jury, “we should not ask the impossible of human beings in this time of crises.”
Extending Colorado’s speedy trial right would be those whose six-month time period would expire on April 11.
In Eagle County, that would postpone two criminal trials. Robin Clifton is charged with stealing expensive bicycles in Vail, and Samuel Brunelus is accused of having a part in a Roaring Fork Valley drug overdose death.
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In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a number of people decided they’d had enough of city life, and the Vail Valley gained some new residents. The same may be true in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.