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Douglas County jury trials postponed until January 1

Posted at 6:39 PM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 19:39:35-05

OMAHA, NEB. (KMTV) — All jury trials in Douglas County are postponed starting Nov. 9 through Jan. 1 according to District Court Judge Horacio J. Wheelock’s order.

The decision wasn’t easy but it was collaborative; judges, prosecutors, and public defenders all had input.

“Lately, with the increased infection rate that we’re seeing, there was a concern this could affect our ability to get jurors to come in or even if we should be having jurors coming in,” Matthew Kuhse, Omaha City Prosecutor said.

Once the court rules a jury trial is stopped for good cause, as they have with the pandemic, the six-month speedy trial statue is stopped.

“I know several of my own clients are somewhat frustrated,” Thomas Riley, Douglas County Public Defender said. “They’re being patient, but it’s one of those deals. If you’re going to have a jury trial you really don’t want to have a bunch of angry jurors.”

They're also working hard to prevent jails from getting too full while balancing public safety by working out plea deals and adjusting bonds when possible.

“We get lists of people who are in the Department of Corrections and take a look at their bonds and we talk to those attorneys,” Kuhse said. “We’re doing our very best to keep the jail, so it doesn’t reach a critical point, bearing in mind public safety.”

Riley said he doesn't want a client pleading guilty to something they didn't do just to get out of jail, and he said that’s a risk in these types of situations.

“Haste makes waste sometimes,” Riley said. “Don’t make a decision because you’re going nuts in jail that could have lifetime consequences down the road.”

Judge Wheelock’s order also says all people in a courtroom must remain six feet apart, wear masks, and no more than ten people are allowed in a courtroom at a time.

All criminal pre-trial hearings, sentencing hearings involving incarcerated people, child custody disputes, and treatment courts will take place by audiovisual device

Previously scheduled criminal bench trials will take place as scheduled; however new bench trials will be scheduled after January 1.

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