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Criminal Justice News This Week (week of 05-04-20)

Ohio's First Post-COVID Jury Trial Was Set to Begin. Then the Defendant Nearly Collapsed. "The incident, which was livestreamed on the Court's feed, has provided something of a cautionary tale for courts and attorneys as local justice systems across the country begin to figure out how to relax restrictions.  The incident Tuesday, however, and the court’s willingness to push the case to trial during the outbreak, has caused concern in the defense bar.

Judiciary Prepares for Gradual Reopening During COVID-19, but Tells Courts to Heed Local Officials. "Guidelines given to federal courts Monday lay out how they might gradually reopen after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

State supreme court allows in-person jury trial, which ends with defendant nearly collapsing. "An Ohio judge tried to hold Tuesday what may be the nation’s first in-person jury trial since shutdown orders began. But it ended when the defendant was carried out of the courthouse on a stretcher....Nina Ginsberg, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told that her group thinks the jury trial effort was the country’s first since stay-at-home orders were imposed."

Mass virus testing in state prisons reveals hidden asymptomatic infections; feds join effort. "Within a week, infections had surged to 444. Perhaps even more revealing: More than 90% of the newly diagnosed inmates displayed no symptoms, meaning that the deadly virus could have remained hidden had the state followed federal guidelines that largely reserve testing for people displaying common symptoms, such as fever and respiratory distress."

Ohio Prison Coronavirus Outbreak Continues To Spread Into Community. Marion County is a small central Ohio county with one of the highest per capita coronavirus infection rates in the country. Some four out of five inmates at one country prison have tested positive, and the virus is spreading into the rest of the community now."

Inmates fear death as Ohio prison is overwhelmed by coronavirus. "'You got guys in here dying, that’s falling out, that’s stacked on top of each other,' one inmate, Shannon Kidd, said.

Conditions within Ohio’s coronavirus-infected prisons described as ‘war zone’.  "Ohio correction officers are describing increasingly frightening working conditions trying to protect inmates at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and inside two of the state’s prison facilities that are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic."

COVID-19 has exposed the interlocking risks of mass incarceration. "The recent COVID outbreak at the state correctional facility in Marion, Ohio, illustrates the point: In a prison population of 2500, 80 percent have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, 160 corrections officers and other staff have also tested positive, leading to concern that these workers might spread infection to family members and others in the community. Low-density Marion County now has more cases than urban centers like Columbus or Cleveland.")

Stopping covid-19 behind bars was an achievable moral imperative. We failed.  "It didn’t have to be this way. Over the past two months, defense attorneys and advocates across the country have begged, pleaded, screamed and worked frantically to free as many people as possible, often putting their own health at risk."

Cuba releases thousands of prison inmates amid coronavirus fears. "The Cuban government has jailed more than 300 people on charges of 'spreading an epidemic,' but has sent home 6,579 inmates in an attempt to avoid coronavirus contagion in prisons, one the largest releases of inmates in decades."

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