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U.S. Circuit Judge Sara Lisznyai has decided to postpone all jury trials until January due to con­cerns about COVID-19. Many defen­dants will be held in the Hillsdale County Jail as they await the delayed trials. 

According to Circuit Court Admin­is­trator Cindy Webb, this deadline could still be moved out further.

“I’m not sure about even in January, so we just have to wait on the pos­i­tivity rate,” Webb said.

Lisznyai made this decision after exam­ining Hillsdale County COVID-19 numbers from the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Com­munity Health Agency, according to Webb. 

In the meantime, the sheriff’s office is holding many defen­dants in the county jail, according to Hillsdale County Jail Super­in­tendent Lt. Jason Stiverson.

“The majority of them are still in the court process,” Stiverson said. “The majority of our inmates are not sentenced.”

According to Jail­Tracker, a service used by the sheriff’s office, some inmates arrested as early as August still have cases listed as “pending,” scheduled only for pre­trial and exam­i­nation hearings.

This hasn’t affected the jail’s day-to-day oper­a­tions, Stiverson said.

“It hasn’t really affected the jail pop­u­lation,” he said. “We haven’t seen that much of an increase in pop­u­lation due to that, and the majority of inmates awaiting sen­tencing for trial hasn’t impacted the way we handle anything.” 

While trials by jury have been post­poned, the court is holding pre­trials “to keep things on the cal­endar and see where things stand,” according to attorney Kimm Burger.

Burger rep­re­sents Dylan Lee Jones, the suspect in a fatal August hit-and-run. Jones has not yet been able to set a trial date, although he was arrested on Sept. 4.

Once Lisznyai allows trials again, Jones will face a final pre­trial to schedule the date of his actual trial, Burger said.

Burger said Jones is still being scheduled for pre­trials, but not for the usual pur­poses. A con­ven­tional pre­trial exists for the dis­covery of evi­dence, filing motions, and sched­uling the date for trial by jury, she said. According to Burger, this is not cur­rently the case in Hillsdale County.

“What happens here is the court sets another pre­trial just to keep things on the cal­endar and see where we stand, like is the defendant wanting to take a plea or some­thing like that,” Burger said.

Matthew Lynn Riddle has been waiting for his trial in Hillsdale County Jail since Jan. 4, according to Webb. 

The 33-year-old Riddle is charged with two files, Webb said. One file charges him with unlaw­fully driving away a motor vehicle and receiving or con­cealing stolen property. In another file, Webb said, he is charged with driving while license sus­pended, fourth-degree fleeing/eluding police, receiving or con­cealing a stolen motor vehicle and resisting arrest.

Unless released on bond, Riddle will be held in jail until at least January 2022, almost a year after his initial arrest. 

“There is going to be quite a backlog of cases once we can schedule them again,” Burger said.

Lisznyai had pre­vi­ously told the prosecutor’s office that jury trials would be post­poned until December, according to Desiree Beloet, para­legal for the Hillsdale County office of the pros­e­cuting attorney.

“Our office has been told that jury trials will not be hap­pening until at least December,” Beloet said.

While Lisznyai has post­poned trials until January, Webb said Lisznyai may move the deadline out even further.