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What will courts look like with the new norm under COVID-19?

Governor Baker announced a 4 step phase approach to reopen the economy. So what is likely going to happen when courts open back up? The newest Supreme Judicial Court order has marked June 1, 2020 as the date that courts will open up again, and July 1, 2020 is the first day for jury trials.


Without a cure and vaccine it is difficult to see that the court will want to bring hundreds of people together on June 1st in a packed court house. Different court houses may have different plans depending on their needs and situations. With that in mind what are some changes we are going to see?


The courts will continue to limit the amount of people coming to court


Courts are going to prioritize certain cases. With the backlog the courts are going to be overwhelmed. With that being the case, the court are going to make certain cases a priority. Emergency hearings and people in custody are going to be the cases that the courts hear first. Arraignments, bail reviews, restraining orders are the types of cases still being heard in court during the shut down mostly on the phone. Once the courts opens up, these are the types of cases the court will hear first.


Encouraging people to wear PPE and social distancing


Once the courts opens up, people coming into the court house will likely be encouraged to not cluster together and to wear masks if possible. This will be a huge change for the courts as courts generally do not allow face coverings or hats inside the court room. With the new world, courts will likely encourage face coverings. Normally, court rooms are packed with people waiting for their cases to be called. Courts will likely change people waiting in court for their cases to promote social distancing. Instead, people may be asked to spread out in the gallery, in the court house, or even wait outside.


Telephone and video conference will be encouraged


With the current court shut down, the courts have increasingly turned to telephone and video conference to deal with court business. The state courts have been very slow in implementing technology and the shut down has forced them into that direction. Seeing the courts will want to limit the amount of people coming to court, technology is the likely bridge to fill in the void.


Jury trials won't start on July 1, 2020


There will be a new normal. One of the fundamental rights is a trial by jury. No matter how many changes are made, a defendant's trial rights of facing their accuser in court and a right to a trial by jury won't be among them. Right now the target date is July 1, 2020 to conduct jury trials. With a lot of public being concerned about COVID-19 issues, and the fear of a second wave in the fall, January may be a more realistic jury trial date.





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