Carter County district court pushes May jury trials to August, procedures further suspended in response to COVID-19

Sierra Rains
Carter County Courthouse

As a part of a March 27 emergency joint order from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, the Carter County district court has pushed all jury trials set for the May docket to August.

The courts began finding ways to navigate the COVID-19 regulations being imposed after an initial emergency order was issued March 15, suspending most court procedures for the following 30 days.

The second emergency joint order further suspends all deadlines and procedures, whether prescribed by statute, rule or order in any civil, juvenile or criminal case, through May 15.

District Attorney Craig Ladd said a primary objective during this time has been to ensure constitutionally required procedures are still being carried out.

While pushing all of the cases to be heard on the May jury trial docket to the August docket will prolong some cases, Ladd said individuals in District 20 will not have their constitutional right to a speedy trial violated.

“Judge Morris and the other judges do a fantastic job of kind of keeping cases on a short leash, for lack of a better term, so people are able to be heard on their cases pretty quickly,” Ladd said. “That might be an issue in some counties honestly, but not here in District 20 and certainly not in Carter County.”

Many cases are often resolved through plea agreements and other instances such as continuances or dismissals, Ladd said. So, it is unclear how many cases might go to trial in August. However, Ladd said there is a possibility, “if not a likelihood” that the August docket will be busier than usual.

“I think that we’re equipped to handle double the case load in terms of trials because usually if we have a two week jury trial docket it’s uncommon to go into the second week,” Ladd said. “So we may use both weeks and all three judges.”

Ladd said the deadline for negotiating plea agreements will be in late July and officials will know what kind of case loads they will be dealing with for the August docket by then.

As with the first emergency order from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, the requirements of the second order are still subject to constitutional limitations, meaning that hearings within 48 hours of an arrest and other constitutionally required procedures are still being held.

All emergency hearings and matters such as protective orders, emergency child custody orders and others are being specially set.

Ladd said the judges have been very flexible while the courts work to navigate the new guidelines and everything has been running smoothly so far.

“We’ve done initial appearances and we always give people a hearing within 48 hours anyway on new charges,” Ladd said. “There were some people that were set for preliminary hearings that were incarcerated and we did that via the computer and using a laptop.”

Some other procedures have been carried out at the court house using social distancing. On Tuesday, for example, Ladd said an inmate accepted a plea and while at the court house, the inmate was wearing a mask and the personnel in charge of transporting inmates were wearing masks. “So it seems like it’s going pretty well,” Ladd said.

All 77 county courthouses in Oklahoma will remain closed to the general public until May 15. However, the Carter County Court Clerk’s Office will still be answering calls, accepting mail filings and working to serve the public in any way needed. Payments can also be made over the phone.

Anyone with questions regarding their court date is encouraged to contact their attorney or the Carter County Court Clerk’s Office at (580) 223-5253.