U.S. court upholds COVID-19 delays in criminal trials, citing half a million lives lost

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Cormac J. Carney, a U.S. District judge, was rebuffed Friday by a federal appeals court over a ruling questioning trial delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Cormac J. Carney, a U.S. District judge, was rebuffed Friday by a federal appeals court over a ruling questioning trial delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

In a partial rebuke of a lower court jurist, a federal appeals court decided Friday that criminal defendants were not robbed of their right to speedy trials or forced unconstitutionally to remain behind bars because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed their trials.

“Surely a global pandemic that has claimed more than half a million lives in this country, and nearly 60,000 in California alone, falls within such unique circumstances to permit a court to temporarily suspend jury trials in the interest of public health,” said a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court ruling effectively affirms that COVID-19 was an emergency that forced some courts to take unprecedented steps, including delaying proceedings. It means that criminal defendants are unlikely to prevail in claiming they should escape charges or get out of jail because of pandemic-induced delays.

In one of three cases the panel decided, it reinstated charges against Jeffrey Olsen, a Newport Beach doctor who was indicted in July 2017 on 34 counts involving illegal distribution of opioids.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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