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COVID-19 creating hundreds of mistrials in El Paso County

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- While nearly all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in El Paso County, jury trials continue to be impacted.

Since the pandemic started, hundreds of criminal trials in Colorado Springs have been declared mistrials by judges and pushed back to a later date. The latest mistrial involved a woman accused of hiding dozens of children behind a false wall in a basement of a Colorado Springs daycare in 2019. The trial was set to begin Monday, but it was vacated and reset "as a result of a public health pandemic." The new jury trial has been set for Sept. 13.

Judge William Bain of the 4th Judicial District says COVID-related mistrials began last July when the Supreme Court adopted a new provision in the criminal rules of procedure. The new provision allowed judges to declare mistrials if the jury could not safely assemble during a pandemic. Before the pandemic took over, about 400 jurors would come in, now it's only a fraction of that.

“We’re only able to start one felony jury trial a day and we might have 25 to 30 trials scheduled in a given day," Judge Bain says. Meaning every day, multiple trials are getting delayed. “On any given Monday or Tuesday you have somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 judges declaring mistrials on their cases because their trial was not the one to be selected.”

Criminal trials allowed to move forward meet three criteria; the Speedy Trial aspect, if the defendant is currently in custody, and the severity of the charge. Judge Bain says some of the trials that have been delayed will most likely end in plea bargains. Additionally, a few trials ended in dismissals.

Criminal trials aren't the only ones being impacted, it's also civil trials. “We haven’t had a single civil trial in over a year," Bain says. “People with personal injury cases that kind of thing, they haven’t been able to get to court yet.”

With roughly 400 trials having been delayed, the courts find themselves in a race against time. Bain says, “The fact that we have over a thousand felony jury trials still scheduled for about 19 local judges to get done means we have a whole lot of work to do over the next eight months.”

Starting in July the courts are expected to open back up and run as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means trials will have more jurors coming in to make up those cases.

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Chase Golightly


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