COVID-19: Mass Courts Closed March 16 and 17
Updated: Apr 2
As part of the Supreme Judicial Court's effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic there were many measures that have been taken by the courts. One of the most significant was the closure of all court houses on March 16 and 17. This post will discuss the implications of the courts being closed for two days.
There is a lot to digest as part of the standing order of and how it will affect people being arrested, those with cases pending, and those in custody. There will be more future posts to discuss those topics, but for now one crisis at a time. This is an extremely fluid situation and the SJC may pass new orders any time. As a result, district attorney offices, individual court houses and jails are trying to come up with solutions to comply with the SJC order.
On Sunday March 15, 2020, the courts announced that it will be not open to the public for March 16 and March 17. This was a significant decision that had many affects. Depending on the stage of a case it could have significant impacts on a person. Here are five different types of cases that will be impacted the closure:
1. Cases that were scheduled for hearings
There were many cases that were scheduled to for those two days. Most courts rescheduled the cases automatically for 60 days. That means all civil and criminal cases were administratively moved so that no one needed to be in court. It included all pending criminal cases and defendants that were facing violation of probation hearings. I expect the court will be contacting individuals about the new court date through their lawyers or by sending out new notices.
2. Cases that were scheduled for money payment
What if you owed money and the deadline to pay the money was on March 16 or 17? Normally, if you haven't paid the money you need to show up to court and ask for an extension. If you didn't pay the money and didn't get an extension you would get defaulted and a warrant could be issued for your arrest.
As part of the SJC order all people who owed and due to pay it by March 16 or 17 was given an extension. The people who owed money will not be defaulted and no warrants will be issued.
3. Probation Cases
Say you were on probation and your case was set to end on March 16 and 17. The court has not addressed how it will deal with these cases. Hopefully, if you are in compliance with your case and all the fees have been paid, the cases will be closed administratively.
On the other hand, if you were in violation of your probation and facing a probation surrender, then your hearing will be continued. If you had a probation warrant those were extended to Wednesday March 18, 2020 at 11:00 am.
4. Restraining Orders
For those victims seeking restraining orders, the court was doing the initial ex-parte or one party hearing over the phone. If the order was granted a two party hearing is usually two weeks away. There can be many issues with granting and dealing with restraining orders while the courts are closed. Look for a later post where this will be discussed more fully.
5. New arrests and restraining orders
Finally, the largest issues lied with people who were arrested.The person being arrested was being teleconferenced in and the judge was making a determination over the phone if the person should be released. In my later post I will discuss the constitutional issues of telephone arraignments, but for now just know that it is an issue.