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How COVID-19 Is Impacting Criminal Cases in California

During this period of public health emergency, we are experiencing swift action taken by a wide variety of national, state and local agencies. Along with stay-at-home orders, guidelines have been set in place that will help to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

These sudden and drastic changes, however, have caused confusion to those who need resources such as the California courts system. If you are facing criminal charges in the State of California, you should be aware of changes in the court system that could potentially affect your case.

Emergency Response to the Novel Coronavirus

Regrettably, the coronavirus has greatly impacted the California court system, and the changes will likely affect the system for many years to come. Still, even during this period of public health emergency, California courts need to continue their operation to some degree. Aside from pending cases, California courts will also need to hear legal issues that have risen as a result of the public health emergency.

In a majority of states, court statutes provide the state’s chief justice a broad discretion to direct and manage court operations in the event of a state emergency. In the State of California, this can be found under the California Government Code §68115. Here, the chief justice can issue an emergency order and/or create provisional mandates to administer justice in the state. Examples of this can include, but are not limited to: Suspending jury trials, Allowing an extension of time to file certain documents, Limiting the hours of operation for courts, Using technology to conduct hearings, take witness testimony, or expert testimony, Moving courthouse locations, and/or Changing jury management rules.

A Criminal Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

When it comes to criminal defendants, their immediate constitutional rights are in jeopardy; principally, their loss of liberty. In the United States, every criminal defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. Criminal defendants have the right to obtain a fair and speedy trial, held before an impartial jury of their peers. A criminal defendant has the right to confront witnesses and his or her accusers. Moreover, he or she has the legal right to obtain counsel.

In order to ensure that these constitutional rights are being met, courts will specify the time frame for holding hearings, such as bail hearings and first appearances. Every single step of the criminal process will be guided by rules and procedures. When these steps are delayed, the criminal defendant’s constitutional rights will also be delayed.

An Attempt to Balance the Constitutional Rights of a Defendant and the Public’s Health

In the midst of the pandemic, courts are tasked with balancing the constitutional rights of criminal defendants along with protecting the health of court staff, judges, jurors, and attorneys. Currently, the courts have outlined essential and critical court functions, which attempt to prioritize case loads. Examples of critical cases can include the following: In-custody cases as well as juvenile cases; Emergency protective orders, i.e., child abuse and domestic violence cases; Contested quarantine orders or isolation orders; and/or Bail hearings.

Generally, these emergency plans will direct the courts to hear these critical cases first, ultimately delaying and even suspending other case hearings, such as those seeking to contest a speeding ticket or civil action hearings.

For critical cases, a court can implement the following: Use video conference calls to conduct hearings, Allow virtual meetings, Extend hearing deadlines, Extending filing deadlines, Waive appearance requirements, and/or Suspend or postpone certain trials.

Obtain the Legal Support of an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

The pandemic’s impact on the California criminal justice system is yet to be seen. If you have been charged with a crime or have a pending criminal court date, you are encouraged to check the California court’s website for more information. Additionally, you should also consider seeking the legal support of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can ensure your rights are being upheld during this turbulent time.

The attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine, & Knox, LLP are exceptionally skilled in the field of criminal defense cases in the State of California. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the law firm is prepared to defend the constitutional rights of defendants. Contact the attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine, & Knox, LLP for a no-obligation consultation.

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