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North Dakota courts face backloads, safety measure as jury trials resume

Jury trials are back in session across North Dakota after the courts suspended them in March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jury trials are back in session across North Dakota after the courts suspended them in March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.(KFYR-TV)
Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 10:24 PM CDT
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MINOT N.D. - Jury trials are back in session across North Dakota after the courts suspended them in March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, attorneys on both sides are trying to figure out how to balance the caseload.

Jury duty is back on as courthouses across the Peace Garden State resume trials. But the proceedings are not quite the same.

Kyle Craig, the defense attorney for the first jury trial since the suspension, said he noticed the differences in courtroom operations.

"The things that were different were, there was significant spacing between the jurors," said Craig.

The District Court informs prospective jurors of the changes, which include social distancing, and being provided masks and hand sanitizer.

"That took up most of the court room which was unusual because typically with misdemeanors you don't take up near the amount of space but with felonies you do," said Craig.

The Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office said 73 jury trials were set for July. As of Monday afternoon, 62 remain on the calendar.

While guidelines are in place to hold jury trials, state prosecutor Roza Larson said the intense scheduling they are facing to keep up with time standards isn't sustainable in the long term.

“We just don’t have the manpower to be able to do that and have all those attorneys in trial,” said Larson.

Larson said with two judges presiding over jury trials a week instead of one, a new plan may need to be made soon to give prosecutors time to prepare.

“Having two judges running jury trial for any substantial length of time is not something that this office will be able to sustain and be able to manage,” said Larson.

Getting back to work on a case-by-case basis.

Copyright 2020 KFYR. All rights reserved.

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