PART 2: COVID-19 and Court's Scheduling
Updated: Apr 2
Mayhem has hit the courts. On a normal day Massachusetts courts are pretty busy smushing people next to one another and making it impossible for social distancing. As a result, the court has come up with a plan to comply with social distancing.
For a constitutional nugget. The governor cannot close the courts. As part of the separation of powers, the governor does not have powers over the judicial branch. However, the judicial branch seemed to be aware of the closures from the governor and the quickly followed suit with its own standing orders.
What you need to know:
1. All cases not scheduled for trial and you are not in jail
All criminal cases not scheduled for trial from March 18, 2020 to May 1, 2020 are to be scheduled for hearing no earlier than May 4, 2020. This order may change in the future, but the courts are hoping that this pandemic will be over by May 4, 2020 and the courts will be able to reopen full time.
If you have a case that is not scheduled for trial, the hearing for that case will not be heard in court until May. When and how those cases are being rescheduled is still a work in progress. Some courts are automatically extending all cases during from March 18 to May 1 for 60 days, while other courts are rescheduling cases on a weekly basis. There should be more of plan for rescheduling by weeks end.
2. If your case is scheduled for trial from March 18, 2020 to April 21, 2020.
If you have a case that is scheduled for trial from March 18 to April 21, the jury trial cannot take place prior to April 27, 2020. There will also be no jury duty during that time. It is interesting that the courts have created a different date for cases scheduled for jury trial April 27 and cases that were scheduled for hearings May 4, but it is important to know the different dates depending on the stage of your case.
This order does not affect any cases that a jury trial has already began. Even though with the courts being closed for March 16 and 17th that can change pretty rapidly.
If you are scheduled for jury duty during this time call the jury commissioner's office. You can find more information through their website.
3. If the defendant is in jail
If the accused is in jail that makes the situation a lot more complicated. In a lot of cases the defendant has a right to be back in court every 30 days. With the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are trying to limit that amount of people congregating in one place. Courts are trying to use a teleconference as much as possible, however, depending on the type of hearing a defendant has a right to be in court.
In recent years the courts have moved to waiving a defendant's presence or moved to a teleconference setting for what it deems as a non-essential hearing. However, many stages of the criminal process cannot be done without the defendant's presence or even with teleconference. Some of those hearings include a change of plea hearing, 58A hearings or trials.
How courts deal with this issue until the pandemic clears will be very interesting. The court is trying to balance the health of the public against the defendant's constitutional rights. The next 60 days will certainly challenge the courts in many ways.
If you have a court date, call your lawyer and stay in touch with them.