Jury trials postponed statewide due to COVID-19 concerns

WILMINGTON — All jury trials statewide are postponed due to increasing COVID-19 cases, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz announced Monday morning.

Facilities will remain open, however, and many other court proceedings will continue, he said, including, among others, grand jury sessions, bench trials and hearings.

The decision to return to the second phase of a four-phase reopening plan came after weighing public health guidance and advice from the courts infectious-disease expert Dr. Alfred Bacon, according to a news release.

While an earlier order allowed for jury trials to resume, only one was actually held statewide — a three-day DUI case in Kent County in October that included six witnesses, the court said. Trials that were scheduled this week in Sussex and New Castle counties have been postponed.

“There has been a concerning rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Delaware, putting a strain on the state’s healthcare system,” Chief Justice Seitz said.

“We believe it is prudent at this time to pause our reopening plans until the situation stabilizes. By stepping back to Phase Two restrictions we will once again limit the number of people at our court facilities — both visitors and staff — to limit the possible spread of COVID-19.”

Phase 2 guidelines allow facilities to remain open, but staffing levels and building capacity will be reduced from 75% to 50%, the court said. No more than 10 visitors will be allowed inside a courtroom, according to the announcement.

“Based on the advice we are receiving, and what other state courts are doing, we think stepping back to Phase Two is the safest course of action until after the holiday season,” Chief Justice Seitz said.

“We will continue to monitor the situation, and reassess the public health concerns after the first of the year. The health and safety of judicial branch employees, the Delaware Bar, and the public is our top priority.”

Nonjury civil and criminal trials involving nonincarcerated individuals will continue, the court said. Video and audio conferencing will be utilized whenever possible, and staff will work remotely, according to the announcement.

Proceedings that can continue include, among others:

• Civil hearings that require the participation of witnesses or clients.

• Final case reviews of incarcerated defendants by video.

• First case reviews of incarcerated defendants by video to the extent a waiver form has not been filed.

• Involuntary outpatient hearings in Kent and Sussex counties, with hearings by video in New Castle County.

• Sentencing of nonincarcerated defendants.

• Presentence review of incarcerated defendants by video.

• Gun relinquishment hearings.

• Case reviews for nonincarcerated defendants.

• Problem-solving court proceedings for nonincarcerated defendants.

Courts will remain available to address emergency matters, criminal or civil, at all times, Chief Justice Seitz said.

Face coverings are required for entry into a court, along with 6 feet of social distance between non-household members, according to Phase 2.

Full details of the Phase 2 reopening plan are posted online at courts.delaware.gov.