MONTPELIER — The resumption of state criminal jury trials won’t happen as planned in December because of the recent spike in coronavirus cases, court officials announced Tuesday. They didn’t indicate a new restart date.
Vermont jury trials, which have been suspended since March, were scheduled to resume via a criminal case in Windham County Superior Court. Jury selection was supposed to take place in Brattleboro on Dec. 7.
Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson and State Court Administrator Patricia Gabel made the decision to delay the trial restart “in response to a recent significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Vermont, which is expected to continue in the coming days and weeks,” said a news release from Gabel’s office.
The move was made after consulting with Windham County Superior Judge John Treadwell, who would have presided over the trial in Brattleboro, the release added.
“We are disappointed to delay this critical component of our democracy — the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers,” said Vermont Supreme Court Associate Justice Karen Carroll, co-head of a committee formed to safely restart state jury trials during the coronavirus pandemic.
“However, the safety and wellbeing of all is critical; that is why we have determined that now is not the time to restart this work,” the release quoted Carroll as saying.
Jury trials will continue to be on hold until the courts can more confidently ensure the safety of jurors, trial participants and court staff, according to the release.
The announcement came less than a week after Vermont saw its highest ever daily case increase of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease. The state health department reported Thursday that 109 additional people had been infected, bringing the state total since March to 3,104.
As of Tuesday morning, 95 more Vermonters reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, mirroring an upward trend observed nationwide. Vermont’s death toll from the disease remained at 59.
Nationwide, nearly 11.3 million people have been infected and 248,000 have died, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center of Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.
There are currently hundreds of Vermont inmates who are in detention while waiting to go to trial or for their cases to be resolved. Some of them have contracted COVID-19 while in jail.
Civil jury trials were earlier put on hold till the New Year.
Because of the pandemic, the judiciary also is suspending nonemergency in-person hearings during certain periods this holiday season. But remote hearings will continue to be held, as well as in-person emergency hearings.
This policy will cover the four days after Thanksgiving, the week after Christmas break and the four days after the New Year, according to the State Court Administrator’s Office on Friday.
“This scheduling action is being taken to minimize the risk of the spread of infection following these periods when individuals might gather,” the office said in a release.
The judiciary said it’s working on these policies with the advice of Erin Bromage, of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, whom it describes as a recognized expert on reducing personal risk for contracting COVID-19.
The University of Massachusetts faculty directory lists him as an associate professor of biology, teaching subjects that include infection and immunology.