Delaware courts move to next phase in reopening, jury trials to resume

WILMINGTON — Jury trials can resume next week through a modified reopening plan announced by Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. on Friday.

The plan, effective Monday, will up the number of people allowed into court facilities to 75% capacity, increase the number of in-person staff and amount of persons allowed inside courtrooms.

According to the announcement, “COVID-19 screening at court entrances, social distancing and mandatory mask rules will remain in place, among other health safety precautions, and the use of video and audio technology is still encouraged when possible.”

Office of Defense Services Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill acknowledged a backlog of jury trials being scheduled, “will challenge the entire criminal justice system.

“It will not be an easy task, but our office is prepared to protect our clients’ constitutional rights and the health and safety of everyone participating in the court proceedings.”

The Delaware Department of Justice is ready to proceed with trials.

“We appreciate the steps that the courts have taken in the interest of public health,” said Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Mat Marshal,

“We are prepared to move forward with jury trials that were postponed, and will continue to coordinate with the courts to ensure that public health and public safety are balanced appropriately.”

Also Friday, the judicial state of emergency announced on March 16 was extended until Nov. 4. It was the seventh 30-day extension, the court said.

Additionally, Gov. John Carney formally extended Delaware’s State of Emergency declaration, urging the public to increase health and safety through wearing face coverings, avoiding large gatherings, social distancing and frequent hand washing and sanitizing.

The judicial modification will remain under evaluation in relation to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic conditions both in Delaware and nationally, Chief Justice Seitz said. The order is subject to change and the chief justice said maintaining the health and safety for all entering court facilities will remain the top priority.

Under the Delaware Constitution, the chief justice may declare a state of emergency separate from any order by the governor. In his original order, Chief Justice Seitz referenced Gov. Carney’s order covering Delaware’s emergency status.

Friday’s judicial modification came under the third of a four-phase plan. The fourth phase would resume full operations, according to the court.

Speedy trial guidelines remain suspended during the judicial emergency.

The emergency order mandates that “each courthouse shall continue to provide a method, such as a Dropbox or mailing address, for attorneys and the public to fill out and file paper documents if electronic filing is not available to them.

“For such cases, the courts shall continue to provide, when practical, an email address for attorneys and the public to email paper documents which will be considered filed with the court when received.”

The latest emergency extension order and updated court operations information is posted online at courts.delaware.gov.