Ohio Attorney General says courts may suspend jury trials during pandemic

    Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

    Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a formal opinion Wednesday that courts may suspend jury trials to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and that they may do so consistent with state and federal speedy-trial obligations, a press release announced.

    “Only the trial court can continue a case,” Yost said. “This opinion is a review of the law under which prosecutors can request such continuance based on the public health emergency.”

    On March 14, Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson, in a request for a formal opinion, asked if there is legal authority for the courts to suspend jury trial activity and, due to the current emergency pandemic concerns, toll speedy trial. Tolling allows for the pausing or delaying of the period of time, the release explained.

    “Although tolling speedy-trial time by suspending jury trial activity is an extraordinary step, it is lawful — and responsible — to do so during a pandemic emergency,” Yost wrote in the opinion.

    Yost cited similar actions taken in the states of Washington and California, as well as federal court in supporting his guidance. Both states and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio have suspended jury trials due to a pandemic emergency.

    The opinion states that a pandemic emergency is a valid reason for a delay.

    Yost wrote, “It poses a health threat to jurors, court personnel, and defendants themselves. As a result, it poses a public-health threat to the entire community in which jurors, court personnel, and anyone else in the courtroom live. The nature and requirements of jury service means that this threat cannot be mitigated or reduced by implementing the social-distancing measures that health experts have recommended.”

    David C. DeWitt
    David C. DeWitt is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience covering Ohio politics and policy. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS and Plunderbund.com covering topics such as education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, government, business, labor, energy, environment and social issues. His work has also appeared in Government Executive, the Columbus Dispatch, Girlfriends magazine, Bleacher Report and the Ashtabula Star Beacon, among others.