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.