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All January trials canceled in Second Circuit due to increasing COVID-19 rates

Leon County courthouse
Leon County courthouse(WCTV)
Published: Jan. 7, 2021 at 12:56 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - The chief judge of Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit issued an order Thursday canceling all jury trials in January, citing increasing positivity rates of COVID-19.

The Second Circuit includes Leon, Gadsden, Franklin, Jefferson, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

Chief Jonathan Sjostrom’s administrative order applies to both county and circuit court.

The order says circuit-wide public health data indicates “a seven-day average COVID positivity rate exceeding 10% for the most recent reporting period, and a general four-week trend of positivity rate increases between 79% and 349% dependent upon the county.”

In Leon County, six felony trials, three misdemeanor trials and one civil trial have been canceled, according to Trial Court Administrator Grant Slayden.

At least one murder trial was canceled. Preston Hart was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 19 for a deadly shooting on Joe Louis Street back in Jan. 2019.

State Attorney Jack Campbell says right now there is a huge backlog of cases that have not been able to go to trial because of the pandemic.

As of Dec. 30, 2020, his office had 9,426 pending cases. That’s up from 6,214 pending cases in March 2020, Campbell said. An increase of more than 50%.

“We’ve been giving out deals,” Campbell said. “And trying to get them out of jail as fast as we can because of COVID.”

In his order, the Circuit’s Chief Judge said he’ll monitor public health data and decide whether to resume jury trials in February.

“I think there’s going to be an unprecedented flood of cases when there finally is a green light,” Campbell said. “And the ones that are still out there are disproportionately serious.”

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