May 28, 2020

Courts start planning to restart jury trials by mid-June

The state Supreme Court said that courts can once again begin jury trials in criminal and civil trials on June 15 after taking precautions.

The state Supreme Court had suspended jury trials due to COVID-19 in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, as the state appears poised to further ease restrictions to slow the spread of the disease, the courts will follow suit. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to give an update on easing restrictions during a Thursday afternoon press conference.

 “As our state gradually reopens, courts can safely resume jury trials as local conditions permit,” Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura said in a statement when announcing the news. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico courts have worked diligently to protect the health of people entering a courthouse. In resuming jury trials, our courts will rigorously follow COVID-safe practices developed by public health authorities.”

Courts won’t be able to open up immediately, instead the state Supreme Court will receive individualized plans from the chief judge in each judicial district on how the courts can open in a safe manner.

The chief judges must outline plans to protect jurors, lawyers, witnesses and others during trials. The judges must also plan on how to maintain six feet of physical distancing of those in the courts, including in courtrooms, and how to use plexiglass dividers or other protective barriers in a courthouse.

Courts have already mandated the use of masks and protective face coverings for anyone entering a building and have screened the health of visitors, including a temperature check.

While the courts are poised to reopen, the state Supreme Court added 30 days to the payment deadline to those who owe fines and fees between May 30 and June 30.