Court and Law

A prosecutor’s positive COVID-19 test has renewed health concerns about resuming court in El Paso County during the pandemic.

The chief judge in El Paso and Teller counties on Thursday released all jurors from summonses with return dates through April 24.

The order by 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Will Bain extended a ban on jury trials in the Pikes Peak region that went into effect March 30 in a bid to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Defendants must appear at their scheduled court dates so that judges can determine the status of their cases, Bain’s order said.

The move came two days after the Colorado Supreme Court issued a rule revision that provides a public health exemption to speedy trial deadlines.

The revision, signed by Justice Carlos A. Samour Jr., allows judges to declare a mistrial if a “public health crisis” makes it impossible to find an impartial panel.

Mistrials automatically trigger a three-month extension of Colorado’s speedy trial law, which requires that defendants receive a trial within six months of being arraigned. If that deadline is violated without good cause, the law directs that all charges “shall be” dismissed.

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The speedy trial law previously allowed for a deadline extension because of “exceptional circumstances,” but did not explicitly state that public health threats qualify.

The rule revision appears to be the court’s answer to concerns raised by the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and other observers that murderers and other criminals could go free if the courts cannot hold their trials during the pandemic.

Among the local examples of defendants facing imminent speedy trial deadlines is William Camacho Jr., accused of first-degree murder and attempted murder in a 2018 crime spree in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

Camacho’s speedy trial deadline expires on April 22.

Camacho’s trial, previously expected for April 14, cannot be held under Bain’s order canceling jury summonses. The presiding judge, Eric Bentley, already ruled that court restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic qualify as "exceptional circumstances" meriting a deadline extension. The Supreme Court’s rule revision provides additional support. 

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