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Courts and Crime

Maine Courts Gear Up For In-Person Jury Trials After More Than A Year's Hiatus During Pandemic

Virus Outbreak Courts
Brennan Linsley
/
AP
A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver. The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the U.S. legal system, creating constitutional dilemmas as the accused miss their days in court. Judges from California to Maine have postponed trials and nearly all in-person hearings to keep crowds from packing courthouses.

Maine courthouses are slowly getting back into the business of holding in-person jury trials, after they were temporarily halted during the Coronavirus pandemic. Kennebec County became the latest to resume them Monday morning.

Some prosecutors say that when they started scheduling jury trials this spring, many defendants decided to plead guilty or accept plea deals that were offered months ago rather than go to trial. But despite a backlog of criminal cases, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says only one case is proceeding to trial this month.

“There were several people in my office who were quite disappointed that they didn't get to try a case,” Maloney says. “People become prosecutors because they do enjoy standing up in a courtroom and telling the jury about what happened and the whole drama of the courtroom."

The jury trial schedule is slow for courthouses around the state. Penobscot County held its first jury trial of the year last month - a homicide case. Cumberland County held one trial last month and has two scheduled in May. But in Machias, cases that had been on the docket have been resolved one way or another - and no new trials are expected there until July. Piscataquis County has yet to schedule one this year.