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Criminal jury trials halted due to coronavirus

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Courts remain open for other services

Criminal jury trials in New Mexico not already underway will be put on hold, one of several actions taken by the New Mexico Supreme Court to reduce possible exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

All criminal jury trials arising under the Rules of Criminal Procedure in District, Metropolitan and Magistrate Courts that have not already begun will be suspended until April 30, according to an order issued Tuesday by the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts.

The order still allows a judge to move forward with a jury trial in a criminal case, if upon motion of a party, to avoid serious harm to the interest of litigants or in other exceptional circumstances. A judge can also move forward with a trial if done with the permission of the chief judge and in consultation with the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court.

A March 11 order issued by the office postponed civil jury trials.

Aside from jury trails, the state’s appellate, district, metropolitan and magistrate courts will continue to remain open during regular hours of business to conduct other services such as hearings in criminal cases and civil matters and the issuance of restraining orders, according to a press release issued by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“The precautionary measures imposed by the judiciary today (Tuesday) will provide additional safeguards for all New Mexicans while allowing necessary court functions to continue,” Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura said in a press release.

Other actions listed in the order to curb the spread of COVID-19 include: providing courts the authority to hold hearings by video and telephone; allowing court employees to work from home if they can perform their job duties at a remote location and if there is adequate on-site staff to keep the courts operating.

The order requires screening courthouse visitors and denying access to anyone who reports exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus in the last 14 days; traveled in the last 14 days to a high-risk area as determined by the New Mexico Department of Health or reports a diagnosis or close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Gatherings at any location within courthouses are restricted to 25 people in a given area, the order states.

The guidelines will remain in effect until the order is either amended or withdrawn by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.