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SD federal courts delay all trials, grand juries due to coronavirus
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SD federal courts delay all trials, grand juries due to coronavirus

Federal Courthouse

The Federal Courthouse in Rapid City.

Federal courts in South Dakota have delayed all trials and grand juries due to coronavirus.

The court can’t safely call jurors since public health experts say avoiding crowds is the best way to avoid spreading COVID-19, Roberto Lange, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in South Dakota said in a March 17 order.

Dozens of people are usually called for jury service before the final jury is selected. 

“The ends of justice served by continuing all criminal jury trials outweigh the best interests of the public and any defendant's right to a speedy trial,” Lange wrote.

All trials scheduled to begin on or before April 24 are delayed until further notice. So are grand juries, a jury that meets in private to decide whether or not to file an indictment against a defendant.

Non-jury proceedings, such as hearings and trials before a judge, can proceed but individual judges can decide to delay events on a case-by-case basis. Judges are also encouraged to hold hearings by telephone or video.

Lange also limited who can enter federal courthouses in a March 13 order.

No one, including federal employees and contractors, can enter any federal courthouse in South Dakota if:

• They traveled to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran in the past 14 days, or had close contact with someone who traveled to those countries in the past two weeks

• Medical providers have told them to self-quarantine

• They have fever, cough or shortness of breath

• They’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, or come into close contact with someone who has and they haven’t yet completed a quarantine.

The order, posted online at sdd.uscourts.gov, provides instructions and contact information for individuals such as defendants and attorneys who are scheduled to appear in court but have the risk of spreading the virus.

Lange said he made his orders after consulting with agencies including the U.S. Attorneys Office, U.S. Probation, the Marshals Service and the Federal Public Defender’s Office.

South Dakota’s state courts are also taking action to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The 7th Circuit Court — which includes Pennington, Custer, Fall River and Oglala Lakota counties — has delayed all civil trials and criminal trials for non-jailed defendants. It’s also excusing defendants who fail to show up for misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, giving more discretion to probation officers and prioritizing proceedings for jailed defendants.

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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