LA's Presiding Judge Authorizes Delay in Criminal Trials Due to COVID-19

Hand about to bang gavel on sounding block

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Citing a ``high proportion'' of jail inmates who are quarantined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County's presiding judge issued the second emergency order this month authorizing criminal jury trials and preliminary hearings to be temporarily postponed.

The emergency order -- which comes 10 days after the first delay in criminal trials was authorized since last October -- applies to criminal jury trials and preliminary hearings in which the original or previously extended statutory deadline would otherwise expire between now and Jan. 28, and extends the time period to hold criminal trials and preliminary hearings by ``not more than 30 days.''

  ``As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles shatters previous levels, many entities struggle as employees and others are quarantined after exposure to COVID-19,'' Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor wrote in the order. ``The court has not been spared this challenge and now amends its general order to continue statutory deadlines for preliminary hearings as a result of the high proportion of  inmates from the Los Angeles County jail who are quarantined.''

The order also authorizes a 90-calendar-day delay in pretrial hearings for misdemeanor cases set through Jan. 28 unless they are statutorily required to be held sooner and the defendant does not consent to a continuance, as well as a 90-calendar-day delay in post-conviction progress reports set during the same period.

``With the troubling number of COVID hospitalizations increasing to more than 4,000 in L.A. County, the court remains committed to prioritizing the health and safety of court users, justice partners, judicial officers and employees, while continuing to provide safe access to justice,'' the presiding judge said in a statement released by the court.

The order provides flexibility in scheduling for judicial officers, along with reducing the number of attorneys, witnesses, jurors and others in the county's courthouses, according to Taylor.

The order notes that everyone regardless of their vaccination status is required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while in a county courthouse, and that people whose disabilities preclude them from wearing face coverings are urged to seek an accommodation in advance of their court appearance or appointment.

``Together, we must do all that we can to keep each other safe as we move toward the other side of this winter surge,'' the presiding judge added.

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