Kentucky courts to resume jury trials this spring

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OWENSBORO, Ky. (WEHT) – Courtrooms in Kentucky will soon reopen to trials and grand jury hearings.

The state supreme court announced pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted this spring.

The restrictions in place since the pandemic started last spring delayed most types of court hearings. Prosecutors and defense attorneys say ending the restrictions can help move a back logged court docket forward.

“The backlog is real. Cases have been on hold for almost 12 months now,” said Damon Preston, Public Advocate for the state of Kentucky.

The order allows grand jury hearings to start April 1st and extends the start of jury trials to May 1st. Jurors will be added to the list of people allowed in a court building.

“We’re gonna be able to start moving cases,” said Bruce Kuegel, Commonwealth Attorney for Daviess County. Kuegel says the postponement of trials and most other hearings put the whole judicial process to a halt. The wait has also been frustrating for crime victims and their families who’ve kept waiting.

“No one’s really at fault, as far as it not being able to proceed. And, to have these matters set for trials, because, you know, that’s where things get in. We’re just trying to move them through,” he said.

Judges can schedule in-person hearings starting May 1st, 50-50 staffing and special leave for courthouse workers ends the same day. Preston prefers the most serious cases, including those involving public safety, given priority over lesser ones.

“We want to focus on the cases that are a threat to public safety, that create a risk of future harm and criminal behavior. And many cases in the criminal justice system that are minor are obviously one-time bad decisions someone made,” he said.

The state supreme court order also affects drivers licenses, extending the date for mail-in drivers license renewals to June 30th.

(This story was originally published on February 26, 2021)

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