Courts Closed until May 4, 2020: COVID-19 Fall Out
The Supreme Judicial Court issued a new court order yesterday to continue to close the courts until May 4, 2020 other than for emergency situations.
In March of 2020, the SJC was hoping to open courts up back in April. Now, unless a case is deemed an emergency it won't be heard until May. Whenever courts are open again, there will certainly be a back log of cases. If you have pending criminal matters it will certainly affect your situation. Here are five things you need to know.
1. Speedy trials
In a world without COVID-19 the prosecutor has a certain amount of time to bring your case to trial. If the prosecutor exceeds that time limit under Rule 36, you can file to have your case dismissed. The SJC has ruled that the time during this court closure will not count towards any arguments of dismissing your case. There will certainly be more litigation later on. You can read more about speedy trials and COVID-19 here.
2. Statute of Limitation
Depending on the type of crime you are facing, the police and prosecutor only have a certain amount of time that they are allowed to bring charges against you. The statute of limitations clause is used to prevent law enforcement bringing old charges against a person. In the new order, the SJC has suspended the statute of limitations during the court closure.
All criminal trials are suspended until after May 4, 2020. This includes all criminal jury trials and any trials without a jury known as bench or judge trials. The only trials that the court will hear are certain civil cases. If you have a pending criminal case, your case will definitely take longer to be resolved by trial. The SJC is hopeful to resume trials in May, but it could very well be extended again.
4. Grand Jury
If you are waiting to see if your case will go to superior court, you will have to wait longer. In order for a case to be indicted or brought into superior court, it is heard by a grand jury. Grand jurors are residents of Massachusetts serving jury duty. As of right now, the SJC has suspended all grand jury proceedings to protect Massachusetts residents. As a result, there is no way to indict a case and it will drag out a lot of serious criminal cases. If you have received a grand jury subpoena to testify as witness that won't happen until after May 4, 2020.
5. Arrests and arraignments
Most courts are conducting arraignments over the phone and will continue to do so. Telephone arraignments are difficult and causes a lot of mayhem. (Read more about the problem with arrests and arraingments over the phone).
To make matters more complicated, if the prosecutor moves to hold a person without bail under 58A for dangerousness, there is a more thorough hearing that can include witnesses. This could be the worst time in the history of Massachusetts to be arrested and arraigned. With the new court order, this system will continue to at least May 4, 2020.