Mass. High Court Delays Jury Trials And Limits Court Access

By Chris Villani
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Law360, Boston (March 13, 2020, 2:07 PM EDT) -- The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday said it is postponing all jury trials in state court until at least April 21 and restricting courthouse access to people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms of the virus.

According to the high court's order, any jury trials that are already underway will continue until a verdict is reached, as will any cases in which a jury has already been empaneled.

The decision follows a similar announcement Thursday by Chief U.S District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, who delayed federal jury trials until at least April 27 and issued restrictions on courthouse access.

The state and federal courts otherwise remain open, and criminal defendants in either court will have the option to make an appeal to have their trials empaneled on a case-by-case basis.

"Upon a showing of exceptional circumstances, a criminal defendant whose trial is postponed by this order may seek an exception from this order by motion directed to the trial court," the SCJ said in an order. "No exception shall be granted except with the approval of the judge and the chief justice of the court department, after consultation with the jury commissioner."

The order added, "The continuances occasioned by this order serve the ends of justice and outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial."

The restrictions on access closely mirror Thursday's federal court order banning entry to anyone who has visited China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea within the previous 14 days.

Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, live with someone affected by the disease or who are showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will also not be allowed into courthouses in the commonwealth, the SJC said.

The number of presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has topped 100. Worldwide, nearly 140,000 cases have been reported and more than 5,000 people have died. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global pandemic.

In a sign of the seriousness of the outbreak, city and state officials announced Friday that the Boston Marathon will be postponed until September, the first delay in the history of the 124-year race.

While jury trials are delayed, the Boston federal courthouse has kept a fairly busy schedule for other hearings, including taking a guilty plea for a defendant in the "Varsity Blues" case Friday morning.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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