DA: some defendants will claim 'speedy trial' rights violated in court 'shutdown'

The Court of Appeals vacancy will be created by the departure of Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. / (MGN)
The Court of Appeals vacancy will be created by the departure of Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. / (MGN)(WVLT)
Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 4:50 PM CDT
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The Shawnee County District Attorney said Thursday he fully expects some defendants in criminal cases to claim their right to receive a speedy trial was violated as a result of the pandemic-induced weeks-long "shutdown" of Shawnee County District Court and other state courts on March 18.

"I expect a competent defense lawyer to raise a potential challenge," District Attorney Mike Kagay said during a phone interview. "I'm confident that what we're doing is lawful."

"All jury trials, both civil and criminal, scheduled to begin in any Kansas state court (on Sept. 18) are continued until further order of the Chief Justice," the five-page administrative order issued by the Supreme Court said.

The Supreme Court order "suspends all deadlines and time limitations to bring a defendant to trial" until further order by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert. According to Kansas law, the prosecutor has 150 days to bring a defendant to trial.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, and the Kansas County and District Attorney's Association crafted a legislative fix which established the state of emergency and an order by the Supreme Court, Kagay said.

All jury trials for the rest of March and all of April were continued except for one Shawnee County District Court division, which is more closely monitoring the dates for its trials.

The chief justice and Shawnee County Chief Judge Richard Anderson have pinpointed emergency functions that are "necessary to secure the health and safety of court users, staff and judicial officers."

Emergency operations in Kansas District Courts are restricted to conducting first appearance hearings for defendants who have been arrested, determining probable cause, issuing warrants, setting appearance bonds, conducting inquisitions, conducting juvenile detention hearings, committing sexually violent predators, dealing with children in need of care issues, issuing protection from abuse orders, and other functions.

Due to the coronavirus, no criminal or civil jury trials will be conducted in Shawnee County District Court until at least the first week of May.

Trials in the rest of March and all of April are cancelled, according to court orders issued in Shawnee County District Court and Chief Justice Luckert.

Luckert issued an order on March 18 to continue all civil and criminal trials before juries.

The last jury trial in Shawnee County before jury trials were frozen started two days before the Supreme Court order freezing jury trials was issued on March 18 was completed two days after the Supreme Court filed its order restricting statewide court functions.

In the last jury trial, jurors convicted Zachary Jacob McFall, 17, of alternative counts of first-degree murder and criminal discharge of a firearm.

The McFall trial started on March 16. The order applied to trials that started on or after the date Luckert issued the order.

Meanwhile, the number of workers in court-related offices in Shawnee County have been trimmed to cut the chances of spreading the coronavirus. The normal number of court-related workers is 165 to 175, it had been trimmed to 20 to 25 by Friday and Monday, and on Tuesday, it was under 12.

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