19th Circuit suspends in-person hearings due to ‘very high risk’ of COVID-19 spread

19th Circuit suspends in-person hearings due to ‘very high risk’ of COVID-19 spread
The 19th Judicial Circuit resumed in-person hearings in late May but has once again suspended them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

ELMORE COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - In another sign that Alabama’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t abating, in-person hearings in the 19th Judicial Circuit are once again suspended. 

The circuit covers Elmore, Autauga, and Chilton counties.

Presiding Judge Ben Fuller issued an Administrative Order that suspends nearly all hearings after 5 p.m. on Monday as Elmore and Autauga counties are now classified as “very high risk” for coronavirus transmission, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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As of Monday, Autauga accounted for 715 cases and 15 deaths while Elmore had 1,076 cases and 22 deaths. Chilton, which was not specifically mentioned in the order, is also considered very high risk, though it has fewer cases (345) and deaths (2) than the other counties of the circuit.

Only a small number of hearings with constitutionally-required deadlines, as well as emergency matters will be held with a very limited number of people to be allowed inside a courtroom.

Those people include the parties (and parents accompanying juveniles), counsel, witnesses, as needed, court personnel, the district attorney and staff, court security/law enforcement; and the press.

The administrative order is set to expire on Aug. 14, which could coincide with the timeline for sending out jury summons. The Alabama Supreme Court previously set the week of Sept. 14 as the first opportunity to hold jury trials.

The pandemic and social distancing began to paralyze the state’s criminal justice system in April, but the 19th Circuit was able to restart in-person hearings for a brief time starting in late May.

To date, the state reports almost 55,000 total positive cases of the virus with almost 1,100 deaths.

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