COVID-19 surge delays trials for Eagle County district court |

COVID-19 surge delays trials for Eagle County district court

Colorado’s 5th Judicial District, which serves Eagle County, has suspended all jury trials through Jan. 28 due to the current surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the region.

The suspension was implemented this week through an order from Chief Judge Paul R. Dunkelman of the 5th Judicial District. It applies to any and all jury trials scheduled for the month of January in Eagle, Lake, Clear Creek and Summit counties.

“…It has been determined that public health and safety dictate avoiding the gathering of large groups of prospective jurors and that a temporary suspension of jury trials is necessary,” the order reads. “This determination will be continually monitored and addressed as additional data, information and recommendations are available.”

Chief Judge Dunkelman cited data from state and county public health departments showing the severity of the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, which has come at an unprecedented pace with the new omicron variant.

At the time the order was issued on Monday, Eagle County reported a one-week cumulative incidence rate of 2,116 cases of COVID-19. The percentage of COVID-19 tests that return positive results had reached a shocking 39.5%. The county’s incidence rate had dropped to 1,616 cases as of Thursday afternoon, but the test positivity rate remained at 39%, according to Eagle County Public Health.

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Neighboring Summit County reported an incidence rate of 3,453 cases and a test positivity rate of 35.3% on Monday, putting both counties in the “severe risk” level for COVID-19 spread as outlined by the state.

Clear Creek and Lake counties were at the “high risk” level and the “severe risk” level, respectively, as of Monday.

A similar suspension of jury trials was implemented in the fall of 2020 in an order issued by Judge Mark Thompson, who was in the role of 5th Judicial District Chief Judge at the time. The order was issued at the end of October 2020 and then extended in November.

This most recent suspension will require the rescheduling of January jury trials. If last year’s suspension is any indication, the move is likely to push back other trials set for late winter and early spring as well.

Trial delays in 2020 led one defendant to request that his charges be dismissed on the grounds that his right to a speedy trial was violated when his trial was pushed back. Eagle County District Court Judge Reed Owens denied the motion and the matter went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which upheld Judge Owens’ ruling.

The suspension issued by Chief Judge Dunkelman referenced guidance from public health agencies as well as an updated order from Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court, which was issued after the court made multiple rulings regarding COVID-19-related trial suspensions.

The 5th Judicial District’s order may be “rescinded, modified, or extended” based on trends in regional public health data, input from judges and other stakeholders and “all other circumstances impacting court operations,” according to Chief Judge Dunkelman’s order.

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