As we continue to face uncertain times regarding the coronavirus and its effects on all facets of our daily lives, many people facing criminal charges are wondering how it might affect their criminal cases moving forward given all the social restrictions in place and government mandates (especially in the short term). While this area is changing on a daily basis, now is a good time to fill people in on where we are as of 3/19/2020.
As I type this on 3/19/2020, there have been 230,588 known coronavirus cases (expected to increase exponentially over the coming weeks). Of those, there have been 9,390 deaths. That’s 4% of the known cases. While a majority of those deaths have involved the elderly or those at an already higher risk of death in general, the numbers are quite scary, and the numbers here in the US are expecting to skyrocket in the next 5-7 days. In fact, the CDC has expressed grave concern at the ease of transferring the virus from person-to-person by direct physical contact, airborne transmittance, and through touching surfaces that infected people have transmitted the virus to through direct contact and/or leaving droplets through their respiration. Additionally, the CDC has said that the droplets left behind by infected parties may survive for as long as 3 days after they are deposited on a surface, much longer than originally anticipated. Lastly, the CDC recently released information that many people can possess the virus, be asymptomatic yet still pass the virus on — making the spread more likely as people are unaware they are contagious.
As such, countries from all around the world are scrambling to figure out the best way to deal with the pandemic, leaving many to mandate social distancing, travel restrictions, and businesses to close. It appears as if those countries that have required mandatory “stay-in-place” measures have faired the best, statistically speaking. Those that have delayed and allowed people to travel and congregate in social places have seen huge spikes in numbers (i.e. Italy). The two questions lurking in everyone’s mind is, “What will America do, and is it too late?” While the “too late” question is yet to be seen, changes are beginning to emerge. The federal government has reduced social gatherings from 250 to 50 to 10 as of the week of 3/19/2020. Obviously, with those restrictions (barring more severe measures), courts are being forced to take drastic measures as well.
The Indiana Supreme Court recently released an order requiring local county court systems to immediately initiate emergency plans to address issues within their courts and make public those decisions. See that order here: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-other-2020-20S-CB-123.pdf
Here is a list of counties that have submitted requests to the Indiana Supreme Court and what emergency relief they are seeking: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/5578.htm
Below are a few bullet points that people can expect in the coming weeks/months in the criminal court systems (disclaimer, this information is for informative purposes only, is not considered legal advice, and is constantly changing thus leaving your attorney as the best possible source of current information and advice):
- A generalized tolling of some/most time limits/statute of limitations for all laws, rules, and procedures setting time limits in most types of cases, including criminal cases
- Extending general jurisdiction so judges can consolidate cases and hear other cases from other courts within the county but not originally in their court
- Closing courtrooms to non-essential staff, lawyers, and defendants only
- Most current hearings are being continued to late-April or early May at the earliest
- Most criminal jury trials are being continued to June or July
- Remote appearances by attorneys by phone/video in lieu of in-court appearances of the defendant are slowly being allowed
- Constitutional protections are being stayed in some limited cases: (1) criminal rule 4 requiring a defendant be tried within a year, (2) fast and speedy deadlines in some cases (typically a 70 day window), (3) initial hearing/72-hour-requirement can be delayed
- Non-essential hearings are taking a back seat to in-custody defendants and sentencing hearings that will allow for a defendant to be released
- Some hearings will be conducted remotely if possible and physical exhibits are not required
- Typical warrants may be turned into summons to avoid jail stays
- Judges are encouraged to limit jail sentences are much as possible and look at ways to reduce the jail population where possible, practical, and prudent
Clearly, times are changing and patience is needed to get through these trying times. As each day passes, more and more changes are made. While these alterations to our daily lives can be frustrating, this a first for our court systems as a whole. Some counties have larger resources to deal with things like this, some don’t. The best person to give advice on how to handle your case moving forward is your lawyer, but be patient with them as well. We are all on new ground.
We will attempt to update this blog as things change and when possible.