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Public Safety

Bethel Suspends Criminal Jury Trials Due To Rise In COVID-19 Cases

The State of Alaska courthouse in Bethel, Alaska.
Dean Swope/KYUK
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Criminal jury trials in Bethel are suspended for two weeks in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases across the region. The Bethel court’s presiding judge, Terrence Haas, signed the order on Aug. 31. 

There were 224 active COVID-19 cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta as of Aug. 31. The Bethel Census Area, along with nearly every region in Alaska, is at the high alert level for COVID-19 cases, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. 

Prior to Aug. 31, the Bethel courthouse was limited to one jury trial in the building at a time. Most other courts in Alaska had suspended jury trials for the month of August. Bethel’s presiding judge had written in a previous order that the court has a constitutional obligation to try criminal cases in a timely fashion. 

However, he wrote on Aug. 31 that the court can currently find no way to permit criminal jury trials to proceed at an acceptable level of risk. Criminal jury trials in Bethel are suspended until Sept. 13. Civil jury trials in all of Alaska are suspended until Nov. 1.