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DA Torrez asks courts to postpone trials

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez is asking the New Mexico Supreme Court and the 2nd Judicial District Court to postpone restarting jury trials in light of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, just as trials are set to begin again in Albuquerque.

It does not appear to be something the Supreme Court will entertain.

On Monday, Torrez sent a letter to Chief Justice Judith Nakamura and 2nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Stan Whitaker, raising concerns about safety and potential problems finding jurors.

“In light of the dramatic surge of COVID cases in recent days and Governor (Michelle) Lujan Grisham’s imposition of stricter social distancing restrictions taking effect today, I respectfully request that you reconsider the decision to restart jury trials in the Second Judicial District this week,” the letter says.

The trial for Alonzo Twitty, who’s facing domestic violence and child abuse charges, is slated to begin Wednesday morning and will be the first trial held in the 2nd Judicial District Court since trials were put on hold in March.

DA Raúl Torrez

Torrez argues in his letter that the struggles people are dealing with during the pandemic, such as unemployment, housing instability and education for their children, will cause issues in completing trials.

“Even if it is possible to seat a jury under these conditions, it seems unlikely that enough jurors would be able to complete their service during a trial, likely resulting in mistrials,” the letter states.

Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Barry Massey said the key during this pandemic is “having our courts operate safely to protect the health of everyone who passes through our doors.” He added that each court will continue to do that.

“Closing the halls of justice is not acceptable for those served by our courts – crime victims and their families, people charged with a crime awaiting a determination of guilt or innocence, and businesses and individuals suffering losses in civil legal disputes,” he said.

Sidney Hill, spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Court, declined to comment on Torrez’s letter.

Albuquerque District Defender Jennifer Barela said her office is concerned about the health of her staff, their clients and the community, but also wants to conclude cases where the defendant is in custody.

“If prosecutors continue to press the cases, then we need to resolve them as quickly, as safely and as fairly as possible, so that our clients can move on with their lives,” Barela said in a written statement. “This is a very difficult dilemma.”

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