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As coronavirus precaution, federal court in Tucson suspends trials, jury duty

As coronavirus precaution, federal court in Tucson suspends trials, jury duty

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order series
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As a precaution against the coronavirus, the federal court in Tucson is suspending most proceedings that involve large groups of people.

All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to start in federal courts in Arizona before April 10 are postponed until further notice, Chief U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow wrote in an order Friday.

Jury duty is suspended until April 10 for trials that have not yet begun, said Deb Lucas, acting district court executive/clerk of court. The suspension of jury duty could be extended, she said.

All grand juries that were scheduled to convene before April 17 are suspended, Snow wrote in an order Monday.

Snow cited the recent outbreak of the coronavirus and the declarations of public health emergencies by President Trump and Governor Ducey.

The purpose of the orders was to “protect public health through the aim of reducing the size of public gatherings, as well as balancing the fair administration of justice,” Snow wrote.

The exceptions to Snow’s orders are ongoing trials that will proceed as scheduled. Defendants charged with felonies will make their initial appearances before judges. Detention hearings will still be held. Federal court proceedings in Phoenix will remain as currently scheduled, Snow wrote.

Snow did not specifically address Operation Streamline, a fast-track prosecution program for border-crossing cases, but the program was suspended this week.

On a typical weekday, about 70 migrants plead guilty to misdemeanor border-crossing charges through Operation Streamline here. Last year, more than 18,000 cases went through the program in Tucson, court records show.

Last Friday, acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli posted a tweet saying federal prosecutors in Arizona were no longer prosecuting misdemeanor border-crossing cases, known as 1325 cases in reference to a federal statute.

Lucas said court staff are working out the logistics to re-start Operation Streamline, and the situation could change soon. Some defendants who would have gone through the program will now be put on the regular court calendar.

The Border Patrol did not respond to an inquiry from the Star on Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to answer specific questions but said in a statement that it will follow guidance from the U.S. Attorney General, “which makes it clear that the critical mission of the Department of Justice will continue,” as well as work closely with the courts to protect public health at courthouses.

Court calendars for Tuesday showed only a handful of cases in Tucson, on what is normally a busy docket. Numerous detention hearings are still on the calendar for later this week related to felony border-crossing charges, human smuggling, and drug smuggling.

In Snow’s order, he said federal prosecutors will have an additional 30 days to present felony cases to grand juries.

Individual judges may take actions to ensure the fairness of proceedings and to ensure the rights of the parties, Snow wrote. Hearings may be conducted by phone or teleconference.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at cprendergast@tucson.com or 573-4224 or on Twitter:

@CurtTucsonStar

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