BOISE, Idaho — Sentencing hearings with the potential for a sentence of life in prison must be held in person, under the Idaho Supreme Court's latest guidelines for court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan on Wednesday signed an amendment to the emergency order that was issued on September 22 to address "substantial health and safety risks faced by the public accessing the courts, court personnel, and participants in court proceedings caused by the community spread of COVID-19."
The September 22 order requires the wearing of masks in Idaho courtrooms and clerk's offices - including service counters - as well as physical distancing of six feet or more between people who are not members of the same household. Also, no civil or criminal jury trial may begin between September 27 and December 6, and no grand jury may be impaneled during that same period.
Chief Justice Bevan signed that order after a nearly three-month period in which the seven-day moving average of presumed or confirmed COVID-19 increased from fewer than 5 cases per 100,000 on June 25, the date of the court's previous order, to more than 60 cases per 100,000 in late September.
The amendment signed Wednesday does not change the pause on jury trials, but it does clarify what other types of proceedings may take place in person and which ones may be held remotely. Here are the changes:
- Felony sentencing hearings in which the crime carries a maximum sentence of life, and in which the judge has not previously agreed to impose a lesser sentence, shall be held in person with the defendant and counsel present in the courtroom.
- Sentencings for crimes that aren't punishable by life in prison may be held remotely only if both parties and the judge agree, and the defendant agrees to waive rights granted under Idaho law.
- Appearances for treatment court proceedings and for temporary protection orders may be held in person at the discretion of the assigned judge.
As in the September 22 order, all trials on a petition to terminate parental rights must be in person.
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