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Jury trials at Carter County district court canceled for second month in a row due to COVID-19

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
The August jury docket at the Carter County district court has been canceled due to social distancing regulations.

In-person jury trials at the Carter County district court have again been pushed back due to COVID-19 regulations. It could now be as long as November before some defendants stand trial to determine a verdict in their cases. 

Carter County Court Clerk Renee Bryant said the August jury docket was canceled due to the number of jurors required to hold a jury trial. At this time, it is not possible for the court to meet social distancing guidelines established by the state of Oklahoma and federal government during in-person jury trials, she said. 

Trials scheduled for the May jury docket were also canceled in April as a part of an emergency joint order from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, meaning that some cases have been on hold for several months. 

However, the court has maintained that a primary objective amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been to ensure constitutionally required procedures are still being carried out. While some cases will be prolonged, Bryant said individuals will not have their right to a speedy trial violated. 

“We are fortunate that, as all involved in the court system work very diligently to move cases along, we have no parties that are prejudiced by this delay,” Bryant said. 

Many cases are often resolved through plea agreements and other instances such as continuances or dismissals, rather than jury trials. Bryant said it is unclear how many cases will still require a trial at this time. However, those who do not plead out will have to wait until the next docket tentatively set for November 2. 

One notable case that could go to trial is that of Jack Latham, 53, of Ardmore, who is accused of first degree murder. Ardmore police arrested Latham in Nov. 2019 following a homicide investigation into the death of 63-year-old Martin Lucas. 

During a preliminary hearing earlier in July, District Attorney Craig Ladd said a judge found sufficient evidence to bind Latham over for trial. An arraignment, in which Latham will be informed of the criminal charges against him and asked to enter a plea, is scheduled for Aug. 19. 

While the length of time before the next jury docket is still somewhat uncertain, Ladd has also affirmed that individuals in District 20 will not have their constitutional rights to a speedy trial violated. 

Bryant said she is confident that those involved in the court system would not allow for individuals’ rights to be infringed upon should any cases be prolonged too far. “I feel confident that our judges, district attorney and attorneys would not allow that to happen,” she said. 

The court began a phased transition to resume full operations on May 18 and has continued to hold regular hearings and carry out necessary procedures, with a few regulations in place. Bryant said a few adjustments have been made since the courthouse reopened in May. 

Individuals are required to enter the courthouse through the west door, where a Carter County deputy will check their temperature and ensure that visitors are wearing masks. Only attorneys, parties to scheduled hearings, victims of qualified offenses, witnesses as called and parties that have set up an appointment with the court clerk’s office will be allowed in. 

The hours that the courthouse will be open to the public have also been modified. Access will only be allowed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. The courthouse will close from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. every day. 

Bryant said the court clerk’s office will still be operating from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the phone will be answered for any questions or payments during those times before access is allowed to the courthouse. 

The Carter County Court Clerk’s Office can be reached at (580) 223-5253 during office hours. There is also a drop box on the first floor for those wishing to pay their fines. Individuals must pay with a money order or cashier’s check.