Attorney General Phil Weiser says speedy trial deadlines should be extended to keep Coloradans safe from COVID-19
March 23, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.)— Attorney General Phil Weiser today released the following statement urging state courts to reschedule criminal trials to protect all trial participants from the COVID-19 virus:
“Criminal trials require citizens to report for jury service, and to serve on juries if they are selected. Trials require the attendance of other participants, including witnesses, defendants, attorneys, judges, and court staff. In the face of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, conducting criminal trials at this time risks jeopardizing all of those individuals, as well as the general public.
“Under Colorado’s speedy trial statute, criminal charges must be entirely dismissed if a case does not proceed to trial by a certain deadline. The statute, however, allows prosecutors and defendants to agree to restart the clock and push the deadline out. Thus, I urge the parties in criminal cases to reach an agreement on doing just that—recognizing that we are in a public health emergency.
“Even when the parties to the case cannot agree, the courts can extend deadlines under current law in certain circumstances. For example, a judge can postpone a trial because of the ‘unavailability of evidence material to the state’s case,’ if the prosecutor has exercised diligence and there are reasonable grounds to believe the evidence will be available at a later date. The speedy trial law also allows a prosecuting attorney ‘additional time in felony cases to prepare the state’s case,’ when ‘additional time is justified because of exceptional circumstances of the case.’
“Being unable to safely conduct trials causes ‘evidence material to the state’s case’ to be ‘unavailable.’ Likewise, the inability to safely conduct trials justifies a delay ‘to allow the prosecuting attorney additional time in felony cases to prepare the state’s case,’ and the additional time is justified because of ‘exceptional circumstances.’
“I urge Colorado’s courts to recognize that, with the need to protect all trial participants from the deadly COVID-19 virus, trials should be rescheduled, and the speedy trial deadline should be recalculated under both of these statutory exceptions.
“The COVID-19 virus endangers the lives of older persons and those with underlying health conditions. It is essential that Colorado’s courts recognize that our speedy trial deadlines can and should be interpreted in a way that keeps judges, jurors, witnesses, attorneys, defendants, and other Coloradans safe. Over the longer term, I will recommend to the General Assembly that we clarify that public health emergencies should be recognized in the speedy trial law as a basis to stop the clock.”
Contact: Lawrence Pacheco
Director of Communications
Mobile: (720) 245-4689