Jury trials in Denver suspended until 2021 because of escalating coronavirus threat

Denver’s courts will not hold jury trials through the end of 2020 because of the escalating danger presented by the novel coronavirus, Second Judicial District Chief Judge Michael Martinez ordered Friday.

Rising cases in Denver, and the city’s move to a higher level of restrictions this month, make it impossible to safely conduct jury trials during this stage of the pandemic, Martinez wrote in the five-page order. All jury trials will be suspended at least until January.

The decision will exacerbate the already unprecedented jury trial backlog that’s grown across the state as the pandemic slowed court operations and stopped most jury trials for several months earlier this year.

Attorneys and prosecutors told The Denver Post earlier this month they’re worried not only about defendants’ right to a speedy trial, but also whether courts will have the staffing and resources to catch up on jury trials when they do resume en masse next year.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health and safety of persons participating in jury trials in the Second Judicial District courthouses,” Martinez wrote in the order. “The decision to suspend the summoning of jurors to our courts is not one undertaken lightly.”

Jury trials had been ongoing in Denver’s courts despite the pandemic. The Second Judicial District’s courts completed 28 jury trials in district court, nine in county court and three in juvenile court during the pandemic, Martinez wrote, with those in the courtrooms relying on masks, social distancing and other adjusted protocols to tamp down the risk of COVID-19.

Those precautions are no longer sufficient to protect attorneys, defendants, witnesses, jurors and court staff, Martinez wrote.

No jurors will be called for jury service in Denver until at least Jan. 4.

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